Sunday, June 29, 2008

Visiting Umbria

Last week we had some visitors arrive and made a trip to Orvieto to visit a friend and as it turns out make a new one.
CJ Whitt a 2004 graduate from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte arrived on Wednesday and Ron Smith an instructor at the International Culinary School arrived on Sunday for about 2 weeks. Ron is spending part of the trip in Croatia. Me, Christine, Francesca, Greg, Gloria, & CJ went to Orvieto to visit our friend and collaborator Chef Lorenzo Polegri owner of Zeppelin Restaurant. Lorenzo takes our students for 3 month internships and was featured in the Italian DVD series shot for the international Culinary Schools. Lorenzo will also host our students for a study abroad course this fall. We also planned to visit Pasticceria Adriano the pastry shop of our pastry instructor for the upcoming class this week. We had a wonderful meal at Zeppelin restaurant and a very interesting and surprising tour of the Etruscan underground. As part of our visit to the pastry shop we were given a tour of 600 meters of underground cisterns, chambers, tunnels, and even ancient trash pits. You could see the black lines in the rock that are from the ash from when they burned the belongings of the plague victims. We were all taken by surprise by the immenseness of the Etruscan underground. This underground is owned by the pastry shop, and I will have much more detail on the owner Maurizio when I post on the pastry class.
We also had a wonderful dinner at a Slow Food restaurant overlooking Lake Bolsena. You arrive to this restaurant by driving a kilometer or so way up a hill on a dirt road. The place has its own garden, uses fish from the lake and local wine. The food is simple but uses stellar ingredients, and it is well prepared-you sit outside on the deck overlooking the lake, it is perfect.
While everyone was at the lake I took CJ to Civita, the “dying city” because it is such a unique place and I thought he would enjoy seeing it. You can only reach Civita by crossing a long foot bridge, there are only a few citizens left in the small town, but it offers stunning views, and some of the best bruschetta you will find. We went to the small little building that houses an ancient olive oil press, and serves bruschetta, and local wine. A young woman was there and I asked her were the man in picture on the wall was, because he made the bruschetta and poured the wine last time I visited. She explained that the man in the picture was her grandfather who had died over 10 years ago, that is was here father that I probably met, but she explained that they looked very much alike, and her was fine, just not there at the moment. I asked her how long the place was in her family and she said for 500 years! Wow-it made me think what will I be able to pass on to Francesca, I have a lot of thinking, and work to do. I asked the young women why she spoke English so well and she explained that she attended University in England. She said that after high school she felt she had to get away and experience the world, but now she could really appreciate her family place in Civita and felt it important to keep it alive. We talked for a while about culture, family, and tradition. She felt that England is in a similar boat to the US in regards to overall health and quality in the food system. She had been to NY and brought up a store that sold organic food, but it was so expensive only the wealthy could afford to shop there regularly, yes it was Whole Foods. She also brought up how MacDonald’s and Starbucks had taken over England. She said she understood how MacDonald’s infiltrated Italy, because of its appeal (brain washing) of children. But she stated that Starbucks will never succeed in Italy, that Italians will not drink a liter of coffee at time, or put all the syrups and junk in the coffee that turns coffee into some kind of sugary beverage with a splash of coffee. She is convinced that the coffee culture of Italy cannot be conquered by the US giant, I hope she is right. It was interesting to get a different perspective on these issues and a perfect setting for the discussion over delicious bruschetta-plain with olive oil and garlic, truffles & pecorino, and tomato & pecorino.
It was a great weekend of family, friends, food, and fun.

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