Chef for a day in beautiful Umbria
Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good? Does it give pleasure?’
– Anthony Bourdain
While I could never imagine the insane pressure that comes with being a professional chef, I do have somewhat of an idea after participating in a very cool food-blogger contest at the Chef Academy of Terni. Two days that quite literally felt like a million, we had the chance to tour the city of Terni and the outskirts, I especially adored the Cascata delle Marmore (incredible waterfalls that will make any jaw drop) and the Chiesa di San Valentino, both of which I will touch on later.
The Chef Academy in Terni, Italy (Region of Umbria)
The Chef Academy is quite obviously a place where people go to learn how to be a professional chef, but actually it’s more than that. It’s a place that I felt in Italy could allow someone to actually change their lives. Sounds so very American doesn’t it, call me what I am but I am not making this up.
During my short stay in Terni, I met a lawyer whose passion for cooking found him forgoing law and changing his life, which in Italy isn’t that common, a 50-year-old American man who had lived in Germany and always dreamed of working in a kitchen, young people from all over Italy with their chef uniforms on and hands at the ready – getting the chance to train with talented chefs. I had a lot of respect for that line of work after leaving the school’s grounds on Monday evening after the competition. Everyone wanted to be there, lines creased in foreheads and looking for their next culinary adventure.
While I am not only a foodblogger specifically myself, I just enjoy wonderful fresh, gourmet food and I love to write about it. I was very humbled to have been involved in the project via Alessandra and her sweet husband. A couple that I felt instantly attached to, we shared stories in their car about child-rearing ( I am always looking for future tips) and life in general.
Their passion for the chef academy can be seen by the light in Alessandra’s eyes when talking about their third ‘baby’, commuting from the town of Sansepolcro to Terni on a weekly basis, despite having two small children – they love what they do. Together with the director, they made this culinary school something to write home about and attracted famous chefs and provided state-of-the-art facilities to attract people from all over the world.
Amy Gulick from The Bittersweet Gourmet and I pretending to not be totally exhausted!
Food-Blogger contest for a not-really-foodblogger
The contest involved six bloggers, three International ones (including myself) and three Italians. We weren’t sure really what to expect other than providing recipes from our blogs that the students and chefs would help recreate with us at the school. Later the dishes could be voted for here, by not only the chefs but also anyone who just likes the sound of them! My recipes included a pumpkin and bacon soup, pork filet with ginger & honey, cupcakes & a lemon & ginger cheesecake. Easy, simple but tasty was what I was going for with these recipes.
My excitement started to grow when I recieved a call when having aperitivo with some friends from Maurizio, one of the chefs, to ask about modifying my dessert recipes into a sort of ‘cocktail’ version. Imagine pina-colada cupcakes and a special, delectable mojito cheesecake. I liked Maurizio off the bat, his casual tone and expert knowledge made me feel comfortable with the thought of being in a kitchen for 12 hours with people who know so much more than me about food and how to prepare it.
The Monday of the competition meant getting up at 7am to be at the school around 8:20. With our chef’s aprons on, we definitely looked the part even though all of us were a bit nervous. Amy, Sandra and I all kept talking about how the last thing we consider ourselves is professional. I think when we actually walked into the school and I saw all of these students dressed up, and ready to meet us – I wondered just what I got myself into. I really couldn’t imagine that they would be taking a day to cook my average recipes.
That they did, and that they did way better than I could imagine!
How to turn a simple dish into a gourmet dream
Dish 1 – breakfast or dinner?
Dont be fooled, while this might look like breakfast, it’s actually my Pumpkin & Pancetta soup made in the form of a cappucino with a special coffee & ricotta foam and savory croissant side. This was made under the direction of chef Maurizio Serva who holds twp Michelin stars and a team of awesome students!
Dish 2 – a pork lover’s dream
“Scaloppine di maiale al miele e zenzero” (pork filet with honey & ginger). This was also made under the direction of Maurizio Serva who added a very cool sesame roll filled with cooked green apples as a savory-sweet side.
Dish 3: cheesecake alla Brasiliana!
The famous mojito cheesecake made with tons, and I mean tons of ginger – a rum gelatine and mint covering the top and a wild berry fruit sauce garnish. If you haven’t guessed yet, ginger was the protagonist of all of my dishes and pretty much life, my new puppy also is named after the spice. This was my favorite dessert, probably ever. Under the direction of Maurizio di Mario, a pasticceria mastermind who also happens to be the host of Tv show “Chef per un giorno” on La7. He also happens to be delightful in person, I really had a good time working with him and his cool hipster glasses ;-).
with Chef Maurizio di Mario and blogger/coolest person ever Velia
(the photo does not do this justice, my apologies): yogurt cupcakes transformed into a pina colada holiday! Yogurt base remained true, while stuffed with rum-marinated pineapple filling, served with a pineapple gelato and chocolate straws. It was an unforgettable experience – all thanks to the creativity and humor or Maurizio di Mario and the pasticceria team!
After cooking up a storm all day, we sat down twice to try everyone, and I mean everyone’s dishes. 12 tastings which I wasn’t about to complain about.
The experience as a whole was a wonderful one that I will never forget. Even today as I write this, I still can’t believe that I was able to take part in something like this. The students and staff demonstrated a professionalism, dedication, and passion that gives me hope for the future of this country.
If this means through food, why not? Italy is so well-known for its culinary abilities and for good reasons. I highly recommend visiting Umbria, a beautiful region of Italy which I will write about in a future post and if you find yourself in Terni, stop by the Chef Academy and say hi to the team for me. Plus if you dream of working in a professional kitchen or pastry shop one day, this amazing cooking school is only 30 minutes or so from Rome by train, the Chef Academy is the one you want.