Learn the secrets of Italian food straight from the source at Centennial College
Food and culture go hand in hand, and to understand the cuisines of the world, sometimes you have to go straight to the source. Centennial College gives its students global learning with its Faculty-Led International Programs (FLIPs) that see those students taking trips across the globe as a part of their program, earning credit while they gain hands-on experience. Italian cuisine is loved worldwide, so it made sense for students in our Culinary Skills program to immerse themselves, with a FLIP that took them across Italy for ten days in May, to learn the secrets of Italian cooking. When they weren’t learning, they got to see the sights, and take in delicious food. Simone Ramos was one of those students. Italian cuisine is her chosen career, so to her, the trip was a dream come true. Here’s what she gained on the trip, and what you can gain, too.
Most important to the trip was the practical experience in the Italian culinary arts that came out of it.
“It’s my main focus and career,” Simone says of Italian cuisine.
“Here at Centennial College, you have a nice influence of Italian cuisine because one of the main chefs here has an Italian background,” she says. “But another different thing is when you go there, to the source, and learn from them, so once you put this into your resume, it speaks out loud. It was a confirmation of my passion for Italian cuisine.”
“We also had classes in the culinary institute, and we learned lots of recipes and ingredients, and what goes well with what,” Simone says. “I saw so many things that I would never put together, but then they do so perfectly, and it makes sense. It was amazing.”
“For me, it was the moments in the culinary institute, learning how to make Italian recipes nicely, in the proper way,” she says about the best part of her Italian experience. “I have a huge respect for Italian cuisine, and when I went there and saw how to cook properly some things we learn differently in [North] America, and how to respect, or avoid the wasting of food and ingredients, and what to mix together to have that kind of taste that we only get there, from that part of Italy, that was amazing.”
“When I remember everything we made in the kitchen, I feel so many things,” she says. “One day, the chef, the professor that was hosting us, he told us, you guys will prepare your own lunch today, and it will be pizza. I will teach you, from scratch, how to make a nice and very original Italian pizza.”
It wouldn’t be the only Italian food she’d interact with during the trip, though.
“We had a lot of experiences, like our trip to Alba. There was a huge wine-tasting festival there, and it was so exciting,” Simone says. “You could see the entire city walking with wine glasses in their hands, tasting different kinds of wines.”
“What is interesting is they have this habit to drink wine at every single meal,”
she says of the culture in Italy. “But it’s not the kind of wine we have here in Canada, or any other place in the world I’ve been. The percentage of alcohol is very low.”
She’d end up falling in love with sweet and fruity Moscato wine during the festival, and bringing a few bottles home with her.
“When they offer you wine, they always bring some food, always,” she says, “and it depends on the region. For example, in North Italy, bread, bread and bread. If you’re hungry, ask for wine, because they’ll give a lot of bread to you.”
Another visit on the trip was to the facility that made Parmigiano Reggiano, a special, protected kind of cheese only produced in one place in Italy.
“The factory where they produce the cheese is a very large place,” Simone says, “and the walls are glass, so you see the whole process from scratch. You learn not only about the cheese, but about the culture. For instance, they’ve been doing this for centuries, and that part of Italy, that factory where we sent, was one of the first. So I could look around, and feel like I was in the place where those people invented the Parmigiano Reggiano. And then you learn the story about the factory and the process, and why they do the things they do and how.”
They got an opportunity to taste it, too.
“We had a chance to try the 36, 24, and 12 months aged Parmigiano Reggiano. It was surprising to me. For instance, 12 months aged is the “normal” one that everyone tastes. When you go to 24 months aged, you feel a bit of itching in your throat, but also a stronger taste, but nothing compares to 36 month old aged Parmigiano Reggiano. You can’t take a huge piece and eat, forget it. First of all, your throat will itch so hard, it’s so strong….But it’s amazing for sauces, amazing for putting in pasta and bread.”
“How do they know the cheese is good to be cut?” she explains. “They try with a small hammer…and because of the sound, you listen to the cheese, and you know if it’s okay to cut or not.”
Going on a journey of your own
“If another student tells me, I’m going to a FLIP program, what should I do, what should I get from this experience?” Simone says. She advises students to drop everything and go. “Throw yourself into the experience itself. Focus on that thing only. And study before. Study the history in advance. Where are you going? What’s the trend of food there? What’s the history? What’s the Culture there? The religion? The politics? Study. Learn about what’s going on there, because then you can perceive more easily what you’ll get from the experience itself, but also you can understand the why, when you have a lot of questions there. Don’t go there as a tourist, go there to study, to get involved for real.”
As for Simone, she’d love to return. “After we came back,” she says, “I don’t know about the others, but I was missing it so much that I was already checking for flights, for tickets to go back there as soon as possible.”
By Anthony Geremia