Sweety Pie

Everyone LOVED Phoren’s Apple Pie Gelato!!!! – Chef John, ICI

That was a message I received the other day from Italy.  It seems the next class sampled our creations – and I should be delighted with the response.  Everyone loved my flavor…except me.  Yes, I’m too hard on myself (it’s a familial trait), but there wasn’t enough apple flavor and I didn’t like the texture (I kept some of the apple pieces chunky, like applesauce, in the final product). During this class, I’ve realized that I like the smooth texture of gelato – or definable bits surrounded by smooth (nut or chocolate chunks) – and not an unrefined or lumpy consistency. I’m pleased with my concept (who doesn’t like apple pie a la mode?) but not the final execution.

Ideally, I would like to try again – concentrating the flavor more and blending the hell out of the base before it’s frozen.  Homework, I guess.

Apples to peel

Apples to peel

Sauteed apples

Sauteed apples

Lumpy base

Lumpy base

In it goes...

In it goes…

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The Rebuttal

The view from the hotel

The view from the hotel

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.

The Location
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.

The Food
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.

The Class
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:

Baked Ricotta

Baked Ricotta

Caramel Crepe with Fleur de Sel

Caramel Crepe with Fleur de Sel

Pears

Stuffed Poached Pears

Gelataia

We have a new look.  I’ve lightened and brightened the site a bit, hopefully making it easier to read.  The topics remain the same – cooking and living – and not necessarily doing either one successfully.

I’ve just returned from gelato school in Italy.  I’m overwhelmed with the idea of regurgitating my experience on these pages today so, I’ll just show you a few of my favorite images from my adventure for now.

p.s. “Gelataia” is a female gelato maker, but for whatever reason, it reminds me a little too much as “genitalia”.

IMG-20130618-00268 IMG-20130616-00222 IMG-20130617-00255 IMG-20130618-00266

Kindly keep your assessments to yourself

Last month, I received a comment from a reader named Luka who wanted to “warn” me about the culinary school I will soon be attending.  It seems that her experience was less than ideal – in fact, in her eyes, it was “a disaster.”  My initial reaction was to attempt to brush her assessment off, but, in reality, her review of the school hit me in the pit of all my fears.  Did I just make a huge mistake? I was affected to the point that I considered canceling my trip; forfeiting both my tuition and airline ticket.

I DETEST myself for this reaction – trashing my dream based on one review from a stranger whom I know nothing about.  This school came recommended from a fellow culinary student who currently runs a flourishing restaurant.  Whose opinion, really, should I rely upon?  I write this post tonight as a challenge to my hesitations regarding school and my approaching experience.   It may be that Luka is 100% correct and this will be “a disaster,” but one person’s folly can be another’s life-shaping moment.

So much of  an experience is fashioned from our expectations and perceptions.  I wonder, exactly, what she was imagining when she states the school depicts the accommodations as “a fine hotel overlooking the sea in a popular resort town.”    That is not how the accommodations are described (at least in my reading). To me, they sound “utilitarian,” with the sparse amenities of work desk, telephone, TV with remote control (living large!), in room ironing press and hairdryer.  This is a Mobil 3-star hotel.  Three stars in America equals a Holiday Inn – In Italy, it’s a crap shoot and should be regarded as such.  All I need is a bed (sans bed-bugs).  I spent an amazing week in Tuscany living in a 14th century farmhouse – with spiders the size of my thumb and a wasp’s nest in the old hearth.  I’ve spent fondly-remembered weeks in a yurt without electricity, a reliable lantern, or heat – and with a communal bathroom about a half-mile away.  Everyone else in my group was snuggled cozily in the main house while I gladly chose to make my home in the yurt.  If I had not, I would never have been an arm’s length from deer grazing outside my door nor would I have seen the swath of Milky Way when I had to pee at 3 a.m.  in the cold, brightly lit night.

Luka goes on to say that, on some occasions, she lacked hot water or heat in her room.  I have dealt with both – neither left me with irreparable damage and, in fact, my current home is without heat in the bedrooms (an odd design flaw I didn’t notice until after the mortgage was signed). She talks about the location – “a deserted resort town with not a soul around and the nearest functioning town a $20 taxi ride away.”  The wifi was only available sitting in the unheated lobby and then… “so slow it was almost pointless to use.”  I thank her for that tidbit as it’s good information to have – sounds like I can leave my iPad at home and make room for my “good” camera – there must be plenty to photograph in a deserted, crumbling, sea-side town.

Should I go on?  She comments that the chef required the students to address him as “Chef”. He was condescending, treated the students badly, threw tantrums, and served family meals of poor quality.  The students were worked hard and sometimes didn’t taste the results of their labors.  Welcome to the culinary world!  This school isn’t a “cooking vacation” – nor does it profess to be.  This is a school for “advanced culinary professionals” which means most of us have attended culinary school where our Chef (yes, you DO call the instructor “Chef”) most likely was condescending and threw tantrums.  I’m not saying this behavior is appropriate or professional, but it is fairly standard.  Wait until you’re working the line in a kitchen – one needs to grow thick skin (or balls), ignore the dreadful behavior and cull the education you need from the presented material.  Cooking isn’t for sissies.

Luka goes on to say that this Chef “is not the teacher for young impressionable kids. Like the 20 somethings that attended.”  Maybe that’s just it! It probably isn’t the school for coddled, 20-something kids whose parents paid for them to go to Italy and play at “cooking” in between partying at the Italian disco and lazy afternoons on the Calabria coast, never far from their iPhone and wifi.  I’m neither 20-something nor am I looking for an Ibiza experience in Calabria – I want to learn how to make gelato, in Italy.

I don’t mean to be hard on Ms. Luka.  She expected one experience and decidedly found herself with something quite different.  I’m not even annoyed that she felt a need to press her experience on me – I’m sure she believed she was doing me a good turn.  I am, however, furious at myself for allowing her slant to darken my expectations. I will love it or hate it,  and, even if she is accurate and I do hate it,  it will not kill nor scar me – and it will be a wellspring of splendid stories that I can share with you here…once I’m back home, where there’s wifi (grin).