Monday, August 24, 2009

The Adventure Begins at ALMA -- First Lessons

We’ve been here in Colorno, very near Parma, three days now ... arrived late on Friday, and here it is, already Monday evening, and so much has happened.
To share! A case of pretty-good wine, it seems, is cheaper than a nice, not-large piece of gorgonzola cheese. There’s been some commentary about people having their priorities right. Two whole days to settle in has been a God-send ... George Brown Chef School does so many things right ... and our on-site Chef, Maestro Dario Tomaselli, has been tremendously supportive and helpfull. After all our doubts and wonders and braggadocio, we’re actually pretty-well prepared. And then, completely unprepared at the same time ...

A few notes from today’s “Introduction To Italian Culture, History and Taste” seminar ... a searing 2 ½ hour presentation: “The function of heritage is to let you, enable you, to stop and consider. Taste is an answer to human desire. Food culture is trust culture. Knowledge creates points of no return ... knowledge of the taste of the true food (a cheese, a bread, a meat, etc.) will set taste because it will set the standard. Intelligence is Curiosity grown in a good way.”
Prof. Sinigaglia had us riveted to our chairs ... there was applause at the end of his presentation. He covered not only the concepts of cultures and regions in the context of Italian foods, but also how products are respected and the use of historical techniques. What a start to our time at ALMA!

Our lunch was put on, as it will be each day we are in school and on campus, by the stunningly-skilled staff of the school. A group of about 12 American students had started their (separate) program and we shared lunchtime and took time to welcome each other.

Our afternoon was spent with Chef Soldati. He is highly regarded all over Italy, and is respected as “Maestro di cucina”. Chef spent almost 3 ½ hours introducing us to the composition of four salads ... cold, warm and hot, with pasta, with meat, just vegetables, including fruit. The results were stunning ... simple, each representing magnificent composition and utmost respect for both product and season. Maestro Soldati emphasized “Use the right part of each product for the purpose you need. The dish must keep it’s focus. Use plates with the correct design for the features you present. Humbly present great products well.” Being able to watch Chef Soldati is akin to watching a Mozart or Beethoven compose ... it is a thrilling experience, and somewhat exhausting. Great chefs here are regarded like the most fabulous rock stars ... accolytes to help, and an audience hanging on every word. A show, a lesson, a peek into a life of skill, knowledge and humble taste.

Most of us were trying to figure out what he was doing. His activity. We focused on what was going on with the food products, and Chef Soldati worked hard to get us to stop doing (just) that and think, instead, about what he was doing, and why. It is quite a leap, quite a challenge, to and for each of us. It will take us far, slowly.

At the end of day a group of us made dinner again together at our apartments, and sat down, as I am now, to write the day before it becomes one of too many days.
I’ll leave you with one of today’s challenges; when people eat your food, how will they realise that you know about your self and who you are?