It astonishes me that two people can experience relatively the same thing and walk away with absolutely disparate opinions.
I’ve held off writing this post to allow the blush of Italy to wear off from me a bit so I didn’t completely lash out. In February, I was irritated when a reader named Luka sent me her post describing her time at ICI as analogous to culinary hell. Deposits had been paid – I couldn’t back out now and go to Carpigiani’s sunny Gelato University where each Facebook post shows crowds of happy students making heavenly gelato. I thought, “Well, I’ll just suck it up, learn what I can and get through it.” I was going to Gelato School in Italy – and this was how I was approaching it – thanks to that post (bad me for being so easily influenced).
Maybe she set the bar so low for me that I couldn’t help but be pleased. And I was pleased – with the hotel, with the food, with Chef and the class. It was so much more than I imagined.
Luka called the town “deserted”. It’s a resort town during low season. I didn’t go there to party and pick up on swarthy Italian men so I didn’t mind the lack of nightlife. Days were spent in the kitchen until 4 pm – sometimes until 6 when we were having pasta lessons. Sure, I would have liked a nearby restaurant or bar that I could pop into for a pre-dinner aperitivo, but a quick 10-minute walk down the hillside found me on a beautiful, quiet beach where I could sun, swim and have some “me” time.
The hotel was described in her post as “mostly uninhabitable”. It is a typical quirky Italian 3-star hotel (as it was described on the ICI website). The hotel is a bit “Faulty Towers-esque” – the staff is a bit bumbling and it was iffy if breakfast was going to be available. When I checked in, however, I found myself in a 2-bedroom apartment with a dining room, living room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony looking over the Ionian Sea. My room was clean, the water was hot and the views from the balcony were amazing.
Luka called the food “fit for a dive bar- primarily pasta with broccoli, a sauce make by cooking the hell out of the cheapest thing that was a the market until it fell apart and tossing that with noodles”. She complained that the wine was cheap and limited. During my first night, I was afraid this part may be true – I arrived a day early and was served the banquet food that was prepared for the wedding going on in the dining room – I’ve eaten worse, but it definitely was not good. But starting the next day, once Chef John and Chef Andreas were cooking, we were fed handmade charcuterie, freshly made cheeses, sweet marmelata, marinated vegetables, crepes, handmade pasta, pork, veal, fresh fish, beef, and eggs with bright orange yolks. One pasta dish was loaded with big flakes of freshly shaved black truffles – my mouth is craving it right now. Wine was good and plentiful. Breakfast was meager (supplied by the hotel) – I would drink a foamy cappuccino and smother a sad croissant with Nutella, which satisfied me until Chef would announce it was “time for a snack” – usually around 10ish, followed by lunch and dinner. We ate well. Food was fresh, varied and plentiful.
I found chef to be fun and engaging and willing to pace the class to our needs. Luka called him condescending and verbally abusive. She said he threw things, had tantrums and that he was unpredictable with a possible personality disorder. He’s an Italian from the Bronx – of course he’s not Mr. Rogers (what chef is?) – but I saw none of this behavior during class. Admittedly, the daily curriculum can be loose, which can be good (Chef John and Chef Andreas stayed late for an impromptu pasta making lesson at my request) but can also mean topics are forgotten or we ran short on time on others. It’s impossible to learn everything about gelato in one week so I don’t feel like we were short-changed.
From my time at Culinary School, I’m used to doing things myself – from preparing the midday meal to peeling apples to cleaning the kitchen – Gelato school was more focused on demonstration than participation. I was gently chided more than once for cleaning up after myself and was reminded that I didn’t “have to” help prepare lunch (for me, it’s not “have to,” it’s “want to”). I would call the class “low sweat and low mess” – closer to a cooking vacation than the rigors of professional Culinary School.
Despite it not being as fast, furious and hands-on as I was expecting, I found school to be highly enjoyable – and I’d return to ICI in a heartbeat. Now, I just need to decide between charcuterie and cheese-making.
a sampling of the “dive bar” food:
I remember that post…and semi-response you did.
I am glad that it turned out the way it did …and omg the food looks soooooo mouth watering. And the view from your room. WOW…..and that you got to walk down to the shore? Did I mention I hate you for not taking me with you? lol.
Nevertheles … why choose between foods…..be greedy and cook and eat them all!
I was about to sign up for this same ICI course but got very worried when I saw the original article posted by Luka. Your rebuttal makes me feel a little better about the course but I still have major reservations about taking it.
What appealed to me about the ICI Gelato course was the training on how to develop my own recipes using fresh, local ingredients rather than just simply using mixes (which is what I have already been trained to do). Does this course really focus on developing recipes? Or was this the part that was skipped in your class?
If you had to do it over again, would you still take this class over going to something else, auch as Carpigiani Gelato University?
We made one batch of Base Mix quickly so that we could learn to taste the difference between Mix and Fresh. From there, Chef gave us about 10 different recipes– three rich bases, two different versions of pistachio and a few others as well – plus a few for sorbet. In addition, each of us developed two of our own recipes (Mine were apple pie and black forest). We had to learn to balance a gelato recipe on our own (be sure to bring a good calculator if you go). Since I’ve returned home, I’ve balanced two recipes based on what we learned – chocolate candied orange peel and peanut butter cup.
I felt like I was given the tools to balance a recipe however, I know that I could easily begin using ingredients that were not addressed in the class (gingerbread with stout beer?) that I would need to break down on my own to successfully balance a recipe.
Everything I’ve heard about Carpigiani Gelato University is that they focus on the base mixes because a division of Carpigiani sells bases. ICI is anti-mix and focuses on artisanal ingredients. Do I wish I could have made 10 more of my own recipes – absolutely! Do I wish we could have worked until 8 pm every night to do so? Do I wish I could have walked away with a full business plan? Yes, but I’m a little obsessive and I don’t think it could happen in a one-week course.
I think I made the correct choice for what I wanted – an introductory course to true artisanal gelato. I feel like I would attend Carpigiani when I’m ready to learn how to make secondary products such as cakes and pastries or to test out various machines.
I hope this information helps!
Your reply is very helpful. When I looked at the Carpigiani course literature it gave me a strong impression that their focus was on using prepared bases and mixes rather than creating flavors from scratch. I think I have an understanding of how to use bases and flavor mixes. So that is why I was drawn to ICI instead. From your description, this sounds as if it might be what I wanted (even if it is limited to just one week).
At the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course I attended earlier this year, many hours were dedicated to learning the formula for how to correctly make an ice cream base. It was complicated and I still would not be able to do it from memory. Near the end of the course they showed us software that was able to determine the base formula in seconds, based on the ingredients that one wants to use. The software also created a nutrition chart required for packaging in the USA. One could even potentially use it to reverse-engineer a formula and recipe based on the order of the ingredients used and the nutrition label. Hopefully I will remember a little about how to do this again so it won’t be so difficult this time. 🙂
Thanks again for your positive review. It has given confidence again that this will be a good week and not a waste of time and money. I am booking my flight to Italy now.
PS. I also found another very positive review of the 3-week Italian regional cooking class from another woman who attended ICI so I suspect that maybe the negative experience that Lika had was either just a really unique off-time for the school or imagined.
I am happy to say that I too attended the “Artisan Italian Gelato: Technique & Production” course this past September at the Italian Institute for Advanced Culinary and Pastry Arts. I made the decision to attend after reading your rebuttal to the nasty review by Luka sent you and then your response to my questions about your experience.
I have to say, I got out of it everything that I was hoping to get out of it so I am very satisfied with the course. I wanted to learn how to create my own recipes and balance my own mix from scratch rather than just use a mix like so many in the ice cream profession teach. And that is all that is taught at this small school. I wish I had remembered your advice about bringing a good calculator as I forgot to do so and it would have been much better to use rather than my smart phone’s basic calculator app. Since the class size was very small (I was officially the only student for this class but two other longer-term students also attended it with me), I got a lot detailed instruction.
Your description of the hotel as being like Faulty Towers is very accurate. It is a pleasant hotel with amazing views, but I would say it would be classified in the USA as a 2-star hotel. Mostly because the rooms were very simple and basic. The bed was adequate but not very comfortable. And there were not really any added amenities (such as a room phone, a pool, gym, room service, etc.) But it was perfectly fine for me as I was there to learn about gelato and not there on vacation.
You mentioned that the beach was a quick walk down the hill. But you did not say that was because it was such an incredibly STEEP hill that made walking down a fast pace. As a fat person, I can say that the walk back UP that steep hill was not at all quick and there was a lot of huffing and puffing going on. 🙂 But it was well worth it to be able to walk through the winding village roads at the bottom (around the hill). And swimming in the ocean is always a fun experience. I probably burned off all the calories from the day’s meals walking back up the hill, so that was an added bonus.
I spoke with Chef Nic, who is the current assistant to Chef John, about why someone would have such negative views about their experience there. He was surprised by the story, but said they do occasionally get people (the type with money to burn) who expect it to be more like the cooking holidays that are offered in Italy where people do a lot of tourist stuff, drink a lot of alcohol, and then learn to make a meal or two in between the parties and general vacations days. On these trips you are catered to and pampered the whole time. But that is NOT what this school does. Its there for serious education.
Some people also have a problem that Chef Jon is an ex-pat New Yorker who runs a culinary school in Italy. He is of Italian heritage and has been living in Italy and working in Europe for at least a couple of decades and he is a very knowledgeable chef. I guess this throws off their “romantic idea” of learning to cook Italian food from an Italian-born person with a thick Italian accent. I came to learn the knowledge he is willing to teach me. I don’t care where the chef grew up as long as he teaches me what I came to learn (but I do appreciate the fact that he speaks fluent English as I don’t speak Italian).
As you mentioned, the food made from the school’s kitchen was really good. The pasta, sauces, breads, meats, etc. were all made fresh from scratch. So I got to learn a bit about how some of these items are made as well as making gelato.
I also learned from the other students who were staying there for a more long-term educational experience (and one former student who stopped by to visit), it is common for people to come for one class and then stay longer for more classes. Or just stay in Italy. In fact, I tried to do the same thing. I had such a good experience with the one week gelato class that I decided to stay for another week to learn more about pastries and desserts. However, when I tried to change my flight, Alitalia wanted me to give them another $1900. And they would then move be from my business class seat (now called Economy Plus) back into coach. Yikes. That was too expensive. My recommendation to anyone attending a class here would be to look at the schedule following the class you hope to attend to see if they might also appeal to you. If so, it would be smart to plan the flights accordingly.
So, I want to thank your for taking the time to post your own experience of this class and school to your blog. I had seen other negative reviews on other websites (which I suspect are from this same Luka person due to the wording being similar). Had I not also seen your rebuttal to her very negative post, I would never have taken the chance on this mostly unknown culinary school in southern Italy. And I would have missed out on a great experience where I learned a lot and know have more confidence in my own abilities to make quality gelato and sorbetto.
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