Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Scholarship That Changed My Life...

     Where The Hills Meet The Sea...

    (Above: The Scene Outside La Finestra Every Single Morning!)


(Above: The Wonderful Grottammare Beach in Marche!)

Le Marche. Many have yet to hear about this region in Italy. After spending a week on the East Coast representing The Culinary Institute of America, I started to wonder why Americans and Italians don’t bother to tour through Marche. Then, I finally figured it out- Le Marche is Italy’s best kept secret- a world wonder, a gem that is only present to those who yearn to seek it. Marche, a land of hills, mountains and sea all woven into one land. A Tuscan-esque scenery meshed with Southern flare and fried olives from Ascoli. A diverse region full of vast Italian dialect and aquamarine décor. The atmosphere of this ground is relaxing, humble and welcoming. For these are the exact reasons why I am determined to market this region by encouraging people to travel here. 2012 seems to be the start of tourism in Le Marche. I am the prime example of how this mystical land can change an outsider’s way of life. 

(Above: The Wine Barrels at Domodimonti Estates. Incredible!)

My story begins with an exciting phone call that I had received upon returning from my Food, Wine and Agriculture trip to Italy (how ironic) in March with the Bachelor’s program at The Culinary Institute of America. I had applied for the GRI scholarship (Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani) earlier that month. The scholarship description read as follows: “This year, the students will travel to the Le Marche region in Italy where they will be hosted by Domodimonti, a boutique winery located in the picturesque countryside of Montefiore dell'Aso in Le Marche, Italy. The scholars will learn about the production processes at Domodimonti, will visit the Pastificio Spinosi for an exclusive pasta making session with the owner of the famous Campofiore pasta, Vincenzo Spinosi. They will also visit the Agostini olive oil mill, producer of the award winning extra virgin olive oils followed by educational seminars on the production of the oil, a working farm and restaurant, Lucio Pompili's Symposium, and world renowned Varnelli Distillery.”

I never would have thought that the Financial Aid office would have selected me since I had just been in Italy studying food and wine for three weeks. Yet, my hard work paid off and I was accepted into the program. Anxious, bewildered, confused and appreciative were all of the emotions I had experienced knowing that I’d be traveling to my roots once more this year. This trip changed my perspective on life. I am now convinced that I need to start cherishing the meaning behind a simplistic lifestyle.

(Above: The GRI Scholarship Group with Signor Spinosi Himself!)

How did I become so lucky to take on this journey? I kept asking myself this question over and over again when I had returned to New York. You know that you miss a place dearly and consider it your second home when you feel an overwhelmed state of depression after the trip.  I don’t mean it in a bad way; believe me I am very fortunate to live in The United States of America. But when would I ever ride a van through the hills of Italy, sing and dance with families near the beach, sip wine course after course and bond with Italians who didn’t know English well, but still managed to hold conversations? Never again would I experience the same exact trip, and that is why I think that everyone should treasure the personal connection traveling creates between humans and foreign terroir.   

The friends I had made on the trip are wonderful leaders in the food industry. There were a total of seven of us including myself, Erica Sabalones (a Baking and Pastry major here at The Culinary), Chris Struck (Johnson and Wales graduate), Stirling Walter (a hospitality major at San Diego State University), Nick Weidenbach (a hospitality major from Rochester Institute of Technology), Chelsea Lee Gallup (a Cornell student studying viniculture) and Ronald Gargani (soon attending the University of Pittsburgh). Our diverse backgrounds made for interesting conversations regarding food, wine and foreign languages (Italian, French and Spanish). We all participated in a variety of team building exercises within the kitchen and dining room including challenging one another in a cooking competition, tasting olive oil and selecting specific wines for multiple courses at dinner. The staff at Hotel Magnolia were wonderful and the most hospitable people I have ever met in my life. Every night, we would stay up as late as possible to absorb the culture and timelessness of the land in Marche, for we didn’t want to miss a single second on this week long adventure.

(Above: The GRI Scholars with Chef Tonino Bruni and Signora Romina in the Kitchen.)

I encourage all of you (prospective students and current students) to keep your eyes out for these scholarship programs. It’s as easy as filling out an application, writing a short essay and possibly asking for two letters of recommendation. This trip to Italy would have cost me over $7,000 and I received this once in a lifetime opportunity for free. Imagine what studying, good grades and determination in the hospitality field can do to a student. For me, I cherish my time at the CIA for all of these connections and voyages. This scholarship has influenced me to study Italian food and wine after I graduate college. What more could I ask for? It’s comforting knowing that I have selected a career path which not only reflects my heritage, but reminds me of the wonderful people and food I encountered in Italy.

 (Above: "Zuppa Di Pesce" produced by the Ragazze during the Cooking Competition.)

 Stay Hungry and Curious!

Con Amore, Giulianna  (BPS '12)

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