Monday, September 30, 2013

Avventure Italiane! (Italian Adventures)

by blogger Kristin

For the past two semester at The Culinary Institute of America I have been taking Italian as my language requirement and I have been loving every second of it. I have learned about Italian language, culture, and most importantly food. My professor, Professoressa Piemontese, is a native Italian and could not be a better instructor. Her passion and love for her country inspire and excite her students to gain as much knowledge about Italy as possible. The only thing Professoressa couldn’t do was fly us all out to Italy. She did not let this stop her teaching style however, and found mini Italian field trips we could take as a class in the area.

I have been living in the Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park area for 3 years now and never thought of it as a place rich in Italian culture. It turns out, however, I must have been looking in the wrong places all these years, or simply was not paying attention. For our Italian 2 class, we were able to get together as a class and take two “field trips” with Professoressa. The first took us to a genuine Italian center deep in the scenic woods of hyde park. The second adventure brought us to a family owned sandwich shop in Poughkeepsie. Both experiences were eye-opening, totally unexpected, and authentically Italian.

Our first trip was to Mariapolis Luminosa Italian Religious Center in the heart of Hyde Park. The center is set way back in the woods and is a bit of a hike to find. However, once we safely arrived, the drive was well worth it. The grounds are pristine and the feeling of being removed from the hustle and bustle of society was very relaxing. When we arrived, Professoressa had just returned from a nature walk on one of the center’s walking paths and proceeded to show us the main building. This building was beautifully new with one wall of glass windows that allowed the sun the shine freely into the main seating area.

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We continued into the commercial kitchen, large enough to feed the guests that could fit into their main seating rooms. It was interesting to see a kitchen large enough to make food in that volume. As we got a tour of the kitchen, we also got a review of Italian vocabulary. Professoressa explained to us the words and pronunciations of each tool in the kitchen. It was very helpful to be able to see the item and hear its name all at once.

After we were done with the main tour, we met some of the people who work and stay at the center. They warmly welcomed us and spoke to us only in Italian, something that none of us expected. Although we have been studying Italian for the past five months or so, it is a totally different experience when you are out in the real world and someone starts speaking it to you. Admittedly, we all froze up and could not respond to anything in Italian for a while. Once we all stepped out of our comfort zone (and with A LOT of help from Professoressa) we all began to speak to the women from Italy. There is no better practice to learning a language than speaking it to native speakers, no matter how intimidating it may be. We all left the grounds feeling accomplished and more Italian.

A few weeks later, the class decided to meet up for another Italian experience. This time, we were headed to what we lovingly call Rossi’s, a small family owned sandwich shop in Poughkeepsie. As is obvious from the name, Rossi and Son's specializes in authentic Italian cuisine. Although I had been to Rossi’s once before this field trip, it was not until visiting the shop with Professoressa that I realized how authentic it is.

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The building is on a corner of a residential road in Poughkeepsie, and if it weren’t for the signs and the tables outside, you may never know it was a sandwich shop. The first thing you notice upon walking in is the long glass case filled with homemade cheeses and cured meats. At the end of this counter, all the way in the back of the store, is the ordering counter, where you have endless options of delicious sandwiches and sides. Throughout the rest of the shop are snacks and drinks that are all authentic of Italy.

As we were waiting in line and taking in all the splendor of the shop, Professoressa was explaining the process of making all the cheese and meat. She also explained to us how the same products would be made in her part of Italy. As each of us approached the ordering counter, she helped us place the orders for our sandwiches in Italian. At first, I thought that this would be a crazy idea. The people that were working behind the counter at Rossi’s were not too much older than me and I thought there was no way that they would speak fluent Italian. However, I was very wrong and very impressed. This family must have grown up speaking Italian,.

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We all enjoyed our goods on the patio outside the restaurant and reviewed some vocabulary terms from class. The food was beyond delicious and it was very obviously fresh. I have already been back twice since this visit! The day was beautiful and we all enjoyed the opportunity to learn in a different environment.

I think it is so important when learning about a culture to experience it firsthand. Having a chance to experience these bits of Italian culture while at The Culinary Institute of America was totally unexpected but rewarding. I will never forget these Italian adventures we took together and am very grateful for the innovative teaching style of Professoressa Piemontese.

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