Friday, May 9, 2008

Week 6 - No Field Trips, But Guest Chefs

Buon giorno tutti!
We covered a lot of regions this week: Abruzzo, Molise, Umbria and Marche. We didn’t have a field trip, which was a tiny bit disappointing. (They are always fun and very informative!) So basically this week we had two guest chefs, two days of classroom cooking, and a day in the kitchen of the school’s restaurant.

I’m most excited to tell you about the guest chef from Campobasso the capital of the Molise region. Her name is Mariassunta Palazzo and she owns a restaurant called “Miseria e Nobilta.” (The name is taken from a 1954 film.) She was amazing. Let me first admit that I was quite star struck from the minute I met her. I completely identified with her, and tuned in to her presence. She was soft spoken and focused. She’s a self-taught chef, who learned to cook after school while her mother was still at work. Her restaurant is a family affair – in the kitchen her mother and sister-in-law cook with her, and her brother is the sommelier. (All pictured in the photo with me between her, and her mother.) Right after her demo I asked my teacher to see if it would be possible to work with her on my stage (apprenticeship). She seemed very excited by the possibility, only one hitch: she doesn’t have a room for me to stay – but she said she would try to sort something out. This has really turned out to be an interesting twist for me. I had originally requested the city of Lucca. When Larry and I visited Lucca a few weeks ago I simply fell in love with it - the beautiful walled city near Florence and Pisa. Anyway, on Wednesday I stopped by the school’s admin office and found out that they had a discussion with the chef; and that she was going to try to work on finding me a place to live, with friends or family. The best part – if that doesn’t work out, there is a restaurant in Lucca they can place me in. So now it’s in the hand of the Fates … two vastly different experiences for me. I should know sometime this week!

So back to the rest of the last week: The second guest chef was from Umbria. His cooking was dramatically different from hers. His food was very beautiful – almost like paintings…I’m not quite sure how I feel about seeing food as ultra-high-art. Don’t get me wrong – I labor over my plates, striving for the right composition. Sometimes it’s almost as though the plate can be too beautiful to actually dig in to – does that make sense? Well – that’s probably for another discussion over a glass of wine …

The rest of the week we spent cooking. On Wednesday I was in the school’s restaurant kitchen, back in Garde Manger. This week I helped create new salads – one a beef carpaccio and the other a scallop salad. In the classroom kitchen we made several dishes from the Abruzzo, Molise and Umbria regions. I’m including a few for you to see. The most interesting was my frog legs dish. (Mainly because it was frog legs over risotto!) Cleaning and cooking those tiny legs were quite interesting – and a first for me!

All-in-all, it was a fairly quiet week. As I write to you on Sunday night, it’s 12 days until my departure for New York - but who’s counting? (wink) I did notice that Larry was a little behind on his Christmas decorating duties while we were Skype-talking this morning … hopefully he and Elinor will be making their way to the attic soon!

Have a great week and chat with you next Sunday!
Molto amore, Maria

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