Monday, December 1, 2014

Angels of the Kitchen

We are truly spoiled here at the American Academy. Perhaps the only thing keeping this from being like a 5-star hotel is the fact that you have to make your own bed each week when the new sheets are dropped off?

Above you see a typical pranzo menu on the blackboard. Lunch is served buffet style with a hearty soup and a pasta, plus an array of fresh, tasty salads, many created using the fresh vegetables growing on the Academy grounds. All part of the Rome Sustainable Food Project.

On Saturdays they let folks like Larry volunteer to help in the kitchen. Of course they don't let us mess around with anything truly important, this is serious business! Above you see Domenico who was in-charge this day flanked by Brianna who was pretty much second-in-command, Around 9 AM there's a meeting to learn what's on the menu, how it's going to be prepared and who is going to do what.

Larry LOVES the look of most commercial kitchens. Just like his favorite bike shops there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. Gleaming polished stainless-steel everywhere, good lighting, just what people want and need to do their jobs well. Bike mechanics are no different.

We get jobs that are tough to screw up. Above you see Domenico showing us how to operate the pasta roller, a larger, electric (no cranking like Larry does at home for our ravioli parties!) version of the Imperia units a lot of home cooks use. Brianna had already mixed up the dough, so the skilled part was pretty much done, all we had to do was roll it out and cut it, using the chitarra, a stringed instrument that you can actually pluck like a guitar. This makes a delightful, square-cut type of spaghetti, here they called it tonnarelli as you can see on the blackboard.

After we finished with the pasta they put Larry to work preparing onions. He feared making a mess of it compared to the gorgeous examples Domenico had made, but in the end it was all thrown into this big pan and baked, pretty much obscuring any damage Larry had done. After he posed with his creation it was put back into the oven to evaporate the liquid and concentrate the flavors. These were the cipolle marinati you can see on the blackboard.

Meanwhile, Domenico had mixed up his batter for farinata, a chickpea fritter famous in Liguria. He'd baked them in pans in the oven, then cut them into pieces to be grilled as you see here. These were served over lentils. the second-to-last dish you see on the blackboard.

Domenico's recipe for Amatriciana sauce was cooking all the while. Our tonnarelli were to be served with this. Larry loves the size of these pots! We had only around 30 Fellows to serve this day, but it's much better to have food left over than to run out!

The taste test is important, but Domenico wants to taste too, just to make sure things are perfect.

And he oversees the plating as well, wiping that stray bit of sauce off the platter before it goes onto the buffet. As most know, you eat with your eyes too, so it's important for the food to look good as well as taste good.

An hour before "show-time" the staff gets to eat, another form of quality control as well as just reward for everyone's efforts. Some of the Academy staff join in as well as kitchen staff who might have the day off. Most of these folks are interns, here to learn Italian-style cooking and gain experience in the food service trade. After a day in this kitchen Larry can say for sure that you gotta love this, otherwise it's way-too-much work. All of these folks really are ANGELS of the KITCHEN!!! 

Buon lavoro tutti!!!