Chef De Marco announced that we would be cooking one at a time, while the rest of the class watched and one member timed everyone. In true form Leonardo agreed to time everyone using his watch. I thought this a little peculiar that another student would time all the students and then inform Chef De Marco of the time. Why Chef didn’t have a watch for this task baffled me and we all had to trust that another student would give the correct reading.
In another true to form moment, Mirko was adamant he would go first. No one had a choice as he had decided. However, Chef De Marco wanted us to clean out the spice rack of the kitchen as some of the spices were old and some of the tins were empty. He also decided that Devon and I would clean out the fridge and instructed us to remove all the rotten food from there.
“Would you believe there could be rotten food in a cooking school kitchen?” Devon whispered.
“Most likely because no one in the school will take responsibility for the cleaning and ordering of the food,” I said. “Now we have to clean it in our class time,” I said exasperated that our precious class time would be used to clean a kitchen that administrative assistants should be responsible for.
Whilst everyone was busy cleaning. Simone noticed Mirko looking at his ingredients and starting to cut the zucchini and weighing his yoghurt.
“Che fai?” Simone yelled at Mirko. Mirko lifted his head confused. “Tu stai fare troppo scoretti,” Simone continued in an angry voice yelling at Mirko that he was cheating.
“Non sono scoretti. Sto cercare il peso,” Mirko yelled back, denying that he was cheating and justifying it by claiming that he was just checking his ingredients. The whole group chimed in and everyone was yelling at Mirko, arms swinging left and right, faces contorted and eyes glaring like wolves. The noise was loud and I was surprised that no one heard from the street.
Devon and I continued cleaning the fridge. Even when we had finished we remained there pretending we still had work to do. With a group of angry Italians arguing it was better to stay in a safe spot.
“What are they arguing about?” Devon asked.
“Who knows? For Italians they have been very quiet until now. They have probably become restless and needed something to let out their tension.”
“Don’t they know that sex is good for releasing tension?” Devon suggested teasingly.
I laughed. “Italians are so argumentative that there isn’t enough time in the world for the amount of sex that they would need.” Devon and I both started to giggle. We tried not to laugh too loud but it was no use, and the roaring was released from our diaphragms. Our bodies were convulsing and my stomach hurt. The group by this stage had ceased their argument and some of them turned their gazes towards us, all with a look of disgust as I am sure they guessed we were laughing at them.
“Ragazzi questa settimana cucinamo i frattaglie,” Chef De Marco announced at the start of the week. ‘I frattaglie’ in English are the cooking of the internal organs of an animal. The tail, heart, liver, veins, tripe and stomach. While most of us would and do gasp at the thought of eating internal organs. This was part of the Northern Italian diet and they love it. Most in the class clapped with excitement at the thought of eating foods that they had grown up with.
Chef De Marco handed out a recipe to the class titled ‘coda alla vaccinara,’ stewed cow tail. Now for someone like me that ate little meat, the thought of eating some meat was bearable but a tail took a significant amount of mind power. Does anyone know the real function of a tail? The cow uses it to clean the poo off its bum after it’s finished a dump. The thought made my stomach churn but if I was going to be a chef, I had to taste the dish. I had to understand every food type and what it tasted like, in order to be a successful chef. So I was told and I guess I believed them.
The list of ingredients were:
Celery, peeled tomatoes, white wine, peanuts, coco powder, water, salt and pepper, and olive oil.
Chef De Marco had a large piece of red meat on his whiteboard. It was long and bigger than I expected a tail to be up close. He removed some of the fat from the tail, cut it into smaller pieces, and then instructed each of us to chop vegetables that would go in the stew.
Mirko agreed to cut the celery finely. Leonardo agreed to put a pot of water on the boil for the tomatoes. The tomatoes had to be blanched in hot water so the skin could be removed easily. Leonardo was about to throw the tomatoes in the water when Chef De Marco yelled at him asking him what he was doing;
“Ragazzo che fai?”
“Pelare I pomodori,” Leonardo replied somewhat stunned that he was being yelled at, he had no idea what mistake he had made.
With a grimace Chef De Marco grabbed the tomato out of Leonardo’s hand and displayed the bottom of the tomato to the class, telling everyone to listen to what he was about to say. He reminded the class that to peel a tomato you first have to cut a cross at the bottom, and with that Chef De Marco pointed at the spot on the tomato. After it had been blanched the skin then will peel off easily. Leonardo realised his mistake and quickly retreated to his part of the bench and cut crosses on his tomatoes.
“Sonia! Vengono I miei amici per cena,” announced Tiziana as she scurried into our apartment, dropping her bag with her chef uniform and knife set, at the door, for everyone to trip over. I had almost tripped over it numerous times when I had come home at night.
One of Tiziana’s friends went to Sardegna and came back with traditional ingredients from that region. Tiziana had announced, as she entered, was that everyone from her class were all coming over; so that her friend could cook the new ingredients and that they all have a party. This was not the first party that Tiziana had arranged without asking me first and I was starting to feel angry.
I had a test that week and really wanted to study. There was a test every week including a cooking test and given that Italian was my second language. I had to study harder than most other people and the regular parties and dirty kitchen were starting to become annoying. But I didn’t want to start an argument. I had said my piece about being informed earlier but Tiziana never listened. There were some lovely qualities about her, but she lacked any understanding of boundaries with people, or that not everyone liked to go out and party until all hours of the night.
Tiziana did the usual running around in getting ready. In the bathroom doing her eye makeup then in the bedroom looking for only God knows what, and then back in the bathroom to finish her eye makeup. It would always be back and forth with her and I never understood how she was ever going to be a chef with such a total lack of organisation. Her books and notes sprawled all over the floor of her room as well as around the house. Her clothes were the same. It never seemed to occur to her put her clothes away each time she took them off. They went straight on the floor and after a few days had to be washed because she had stepped all over them. But they were likely on the floor because she hadn’t taken them off but rather someone else in a moment of high excitement and passion.
Tiziana still had her on again off again boyfriend and they had recently made up and were on again. But another boy was coming to the party that Tiziana liked. I don’t recall his name as I only heard sounds coming from Tiziana’s bedroom, whenever he came over. The boy had a girlfriend as well, back in his home state. Tiziana loved this boy for some unknown reason. She kept hoping he would want her, but after one of their four hour sex romps, he would stop calling her and even at school he would ignore her.
“Lui ce la paura,” Tiziaiana kept telling me that she believed he was scared.
“What do you think he could possibly be scared about?” I asked Tiziana in Italian.
“Scared of commitment,” he just left his relationship and is afraid to get involved again” she would insist.
I told Tiziana that this is the biggest lie if there ever was one. That if he wanted her he would have her and nothing would stop him. But Tiziana refused to understand. Some of it was due to her age. But some of it, as far as I was concerned had to do with deeper issues that I will not delve into right now.
“Ma Perche? Perche lui fa cosi?”
Tiziana kept crying and asking the same question over and over again as to why this boy would ignore her one day, and love her the next. Getting frustrated with me when I wouldn’t answer, because I had enough of the same stupid question with no resolution.
Anyway the young man causing Tiziana such heartache had arrived, and Tiziana kept asking me how she looked. She promised me that she will not do anything with him because he had not spoken to her in over a week after their last sex romp.
Eight hours later.
“Ah si si, bravo bravooooo Bravoooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“Si Tiziana.” Yes Tiziana I replied at the singing of my name.
“Viene qua,” Tiziana responded with a more forceful tone, wanting me to go to her and I had no idea why.
I reluctantly lifted myself off the couch. I had been relaxing after my third day at school. Tiziana was in her room frantically getting ready to go out. She always seemed to be in a hurry as she explained that her friends were always waiting for her. For the two months that we lived together Tiziana was always rushing and I never figured out why she took so long to get ready.
Tiziana was always kind enough to invite me out with her and her friends, but I always told her that I had to study, and she hated the excuse; saying that I studied too much.
“Io sto uscendo, voui venire?” she asked me.
“No Grazie. Io devo studiare. Ce lo il primo test Giovedi,” I replied
“Ma tu studia troppo. Sempre a studiare,” she replied frustrated.
I always study compared to you, because you never study.
“Che cosa hai fatto oggi? Che Chef?” Changing the subject she asked what I had studied that day, at the time she was looking for her shorts.
“Abbiamo cucinato Congilgio con Chef Carlo,” I replied that we had learnt deboning and cooking rabbit at class that day with everyone’s favourite chef; chef Carlo.
“Ma che bello, Chef Carlo. Perche tu non ti scorpri?” she asked.
“Tiziana lui e sposato,” I replied flabbergasted at her suggestion of having an affair with a married man.
“Che te ne fregga,” she said non chalantly as if it is normal not to care about sleeping with a married man. Tiziana seemed surprised that I would even challenge her suggestion to have an affair with a married man.
I recalled my first trip to Italy when I was twenty two. I made a comment to my cousin that everyone in Italy seemed to be in a relationship, and that the first question Italians ask is if you have a partner. My cousin explained that the culture in Italy is to always be in a relationship but rarely faithful. My cousin told me that people are cheating all the time, and it is so common that it’s hard to know if you can trust someone when you first meet them. This trip was going to be longest stay in Italy and I was starting to see some of these little traits that I did not like.
After almost an hour of getting ready, pocket rocket Tiziana stormed out the door. She had just received a call that her friends, who were waiting for her downstairs, were leaving as they had waited too long already. After yelling down the phone at them, she stormed out.
I was happy that my housemate liked going out every night. I enjoyed having the house to myself, and a clean kitchen because she ate in restaurants rather than at home. This was the first time in all my life that I was going to live with a housemate. I was worried that I was going to have to deal with a dirty kitchen. There is nothing worse than having to look at other peoples bits of food on the kitchen bench, worse still having to clean other people’s dishes so that I could cook. I have heard these stories before and I prayed this wouldn’t happen to me.
I had no idea what to expect at AIC. I had done my research on the internet and looked at so many cookery schools in Italy. Many were for Italians only, some for international students only and then I found Academy of Italian Culinary. I knew instantly that it was the right place for me. The course was for beginners and the outline suited me with the basics in cutting vegetables, preparing sauces and broths for cooking. I was learning a new skill in my 40’s and this was both scary and exciting.
I knew I was good at my job in social work and I knew exactly what to do each and every day, but this was going to be a huge change. I had so much to learn and I wanted to learn everything there was about being a chef. I was excited about the next step of my journey but the ever familiar sick feeling in the pit of my stomach began again. I knew instantly that it was anxiety and began the self talk again. “It’s ok to nervous” I told myself. “It’s ok to be anxious, you are about to start a chef course in a foreign country, who wouldn’t be nervous?”
I repeated over and over. “Just be gentle with yourself and take it one day, one moment at a time.”
I repeated these phrases all the way to the school and throughout the day.
I arrived at the main office of the school, where some other members of the new class were already waiting outside. There was a young Italian boy speaking English with another tall, blonde male. The tall, blonde male’s accent told me that he was European and English was his second language. So I am not the only foreigner in this course. I thought a little relieved.
I quickly noticed that the students were so young. No one else here was tackling a mid-life crisis, as most would be pushing thirty. I hadn’t thought I would be returning to school with a group so much younger than me. I thought there would be one or two around my age wanting to make a life change or just learn to cook. I then remembered Italians are not likely to make a life change in their forties. If they have a job they will stick to it for fear that they will not get another one, especially if it pays well.
I started to worry about how I was going to get along with people so much younger than me. Then a young girl next to me introduced herself as Maria, and asked where I was from as my accent told her I was not Italian;
“Da dove siei?” she asked me.
“Io sono Australiana.” Hai sentito il mio accento?” I asked her if she could tell from my accent that I was not Italian.
“Si ho capito che sei straniera,” She replied yes, that she could tell I was a foreigner.
“Are you Sonia?” A man with an American accent asked me as we met half way down Via Della Stazione. I had finally met my American landlord, Peter. He was a tall, skinny man. At least 6 feet tall, sporting blue jeans and a black jacket. He seemed tired of waiting for me. I’d had trouble with my phone when I disembarked from the train at Terni and couldn’t get in contact with him. It took an hour for me to figure out that all I had to do was switch my phone off and on again and the problem would be solved. I cursed myself for not figuring it out earlier and started questioning how I ever thought I was going to survive this trip, when I couldn’t figure out a simple solution to a simple problem.
But finally I was on my way and my patient land lord was taking me to my new home for the next two months. He had lived in Italy for a long time but still had his American accent. He told me about his Italian wife and adult children.
“My children went to America for work. There isn’t much here at the moment with the financial crisis,” he told me. “So they went to America and seem to be happy there. My son went first and then my daughter. I told them not to come back to Italy and neither seem keen to come back at this stage.”
I nodded as he spoke at the same time manoeuvring my lugging around the rocky footpath.
“How was your flight?” he asked after he finished his life story.
“Long and exhausting, I am so happy to finally have arrived,” I replied
“How long does it take to get here from Australia?
“A day and a half with all the stop overs along the way,” I replied knowing full well this question was going to be asked numerous times during my trip.
“That long? Gee you must be exhausted. You must be keen for a rest and early night sleep,” Peter said sympathetically.