What made you want to Stage with Chef Bottura in Italy?
Chef Massimo Bottura and his partner wife Lara Gilmore are widely known for being not only restaurateurs but also food activists as well. In addition to running many multiple Michelin star restaurants, they also operate many different projects regarding food insecurities and bringing the community together. Not only did I want to learn and experience the kitchen of Osteria Francescana (regarding techniques, teamwork, schedule, ingredients, etc), but I also wanted to first handedly see (specifically Food for Soul and Tortellante in Modena) and be a part of the different projects contributing for a greater purpose for I, too, would like to create and become part of such purpose if and when given the opportunity and platform.
I spent half of my time at the recently opened Casa Maria Luigia (CML) and the other half at Osteria Francescana while participating in different projects on my days off. (CML is a 12 guestrooms villa offering guests a very intimate yet comfortable experience with a hearty Emilian breakfast and Osteria Francescana’s signature 9 course dinner in the adjacent carriage house with other amenities. Osteria Francescana is a 3 Michelin star and ranked twice as #1 on the World’s Best Restaurant List kind of restaurant).
Can you describe what you did during your Stage?
I was first on the PM team at CML. The unique aspect of PM shift and experience for both the team and the guests is that dinner at CML is like being a part of a story for it is an open kitchen with storytelling for each menu item. Everyone is seated at the same time and Chef Jess, Ms. Lara, and Chef Massimo will alternately tell a brief story behind each dish before they all go out to the guests and depending on the size and mood of the guests that particular day, the atmosphere in the room will differ each day. The most popular dish and event every night is when it’s time to plate the “Ooops I dropped the lemon tart” dish for almost all the time the guests will come to the pass and start taking videos and pictures of our very dramatic presentation.
After a few weeks, I was on the AM team at CML, responsible for the Emilian breakfast spread, the house snacks made available to guests, and other interchanging daily tasks. We would arrive at 6AM to setup the spread consisting of traditional Emilian ingredients such as different frittatas, gnocco frittos, erbazzones, mortadella, cotechino, pastries, wood-fire baked focaccia, and much more by 8AM. We move onto prepping and filling the guests’ refrigerator with daily changing house snacks and drinks and pastries and bread for the following day. I was able to touch and create more traditional Emilian dishes while practicing more breads and pastry skillsets being on the AM team.
And then after a few weeks, I was on the Secondi (meat) station at Osteria Francescana assisting Matteo, the chef de partie of that station, for both lunch and dinner service. Francescana was a whole different animal like I have never seen nor experienced before for I was able to truly understand the saying “it is not work if you are doing what you love” through those team members. It was my first exposure to working fine dining outside the US and I did not expect what I had seen and have never had a renewed respect for all the workers in this industry. My typical day at Francescana would begin at 8AM setting and prepping up the Secondi station with Matteo until 11:30AM. Lunch would last for an hour and we would be back and ready at our station by 12:30PM for that is when lunch service starts and ends around 3PM the latest. Then we clean and immediately go into prepping and setting up for dinner service until 4:30pm. We have around 1 hour to 1hr 30mins break, then return and eat dinner together, go back to our stations to tie all the loose ends and officially begin dinner service at 7:30pm until it’s over around 11:00-11:30pm. Every time I arrived back home a few minutes past midnight, I was always left with awe and respect for all the cooks and literally the whole team by their dedication and work ethic every day.
What stands out as some of the lessons that you learned during your experience?
My mentors; Chefs Thomas Keller, David Breeden and Elliot Bell instilled and taught me the importance and purpose of mentorship through actions and words prior to this trip. Without their teachings and actions, I would not have understood nor even questioned the importance and impact of one’s responsibilities to this generation. Modena, Italy gave me a clearer picture of what path I would like to pave and walk on while remembering and honoring traditions and legacies of those who came before us.
In addition to all the new techniques, ingredients, and kitchen questions when one enters a new environment, I also learned and understood the meaning of the importance of keeping traditions, the influences of a good leader, good teamwork, and ultimately the courage and confidence to strive for a greater purpose through the skills and talents of each individual.