Training in Italy is the real deal—even for a short time. Studying, living, and working in Italy enables chefs to think about food the way an Italian does.
For five days in late September, a group of food and beverage executives and American chefs, followed an intensive course at Gambero Rosso in Rome to check out the program developed by the May-Mei Culinary Academy founded by American restaurateur Tony May and Italian chefs/educators Sergio Mei and Bruno Libralon. Flavor Forays joined with Tony May to bring this group of hospitality kingpins to Rome.
Each morning we went to Gambero Rosso for Sergio Mei’s instruction in specific areas such as fish cookery, pasta and rice, meat, and desserts. We cooked such traditional dishes as vitello tonnato, veal Milanese, carbonara, risotto with porcini and were encouraged to add our own creative touches. In the afternoon, we visited producers and then in the evening returned to the school for more work in the kitchen.
The condensed program is geared to professionals who wish to learn or refresh their knowledge of Italian cooking techniques and products as well as the traditions and cultures of the Italian table. It promises them taste memories to carry back home.
In addition to our hands-on cooking, some of the most poignant taste memories were created by the passionate producers visited. Mauro Secondi held us enthralled at his Pastificio Secondi with his impassioned descriptions of the fresh artisanal pasta he produces. He literally had us eating raw samples of filled ravioli out of his hand and marveling at the bright orange yolks of the in-shell eggs he uses. Hint: the chickens are fed carrots and corn. He charmed us with stories about the origin of pasta; names such as “navel of Venus” and “priest stranglers.” He concluded with bear hugs for all. We had similar experiences with the producer of Le Pile olive oil and Vincenzo Mancino a dedicated local cheese monger. More taste memories were created in local restaurants where we were treated to variations on the theme of Rome’s classic trinity of pastas: cacio e pepe, carbonara, and bucatini all’amatriciana as well as roasted veal, fried squash blossoms, the freshest mozzarella, tomatoes and porchetta. And prosciutto di Parma aplenty. All washed down by vino red and white and the group’s favorite discovery limoncello. At Assunta Madre, which Tony May believes to be the best fish restaurant in Rome, we were greeted by a stunning display of freshly caught fish which in short order would be on our plates in a staggering variety of crudo of tuna, sea bass, shrimp, and transparent thinly sliced prawns as silky as butter. Cooked preparations followed and naturally, there were a couple of pasta courses. We were stuffed to the point of begging for mercy which arrived in the form of, what else?, limoncello.
Marisa May, Tony’s daughter, made sure we saw the sights of Rome as well and led us on late night crawls through Trastevere, Piazza Navona and Fiori di Campo where it was not out of the question to sample some pizza or gelato and, it goes without saying, limoncello.
For info about the Gambero Rosso program, visit https://www.may-mei.org/en/schools/#rosso. For more information and a 2017-2018 schedule of courses in various regions throughout Italy, visit www.maymei.org or www.may-meiitalianculinaryacademy.com. Tony May is also available for a personal phone appointment to provide more information