Heat, jetlag, 9-hour days, swollen ankles and espresso shots. That pretty much sums up the first for week for me. It’s my first time working in a kitchen other than the ones in my and my friends’ homes and it’s definitely different. Still fun and delicious, cooking in a commercial, industrial kitchen (8 burners, two pasta boilers, a tilt-skillet, double ovens, piastra, multiple prep stations and a dish-washer) felt pretty intimidating at first.
My new roommates and fellow interns assured me I would be fine. The first night, Lizzy, a seasoned private chef from England living in Switzerland, and I hiked down into Trastevere for dinner together. We chose a nice enough looking place and ordered Pizza con Fiori di Zuca and Tagliata con Insalata di Rugala e Pomodoro. We were both so hungry that either of us probably would have been satisfied by kabob but the pizza and steaks were fine. Definitely couldn’t compare to the next night’s dinner with all the interns and Mona at a Sardinian spot on the Gianicolo called . The meal was simple and delicious. I had fish egg pasta, a taste of scamorza (fried cheese), calamari fritti and contorni. The restaurant is family run and Mona encouraged us to work there on our days and nights off.
When 4 AM rolled around on Monday, the 6th, I wasn’t really nervous or intimidated anymore, just excited in anticipation of all the food I was going to get to cook and eat. I love to eat and, having eaten at the Academy for a full week a year ago, I was salivating just remembering the lunches and dinners I had the pleasure stuffing myself with. Just as a quick preface to the week, my only complaint is that I do not have enough self control during staff lunch to keep myself from stuffing myself. It makes everything after 3:00 pretty tough, unless it’s topping and tailing fagiolini (green beans) during which sitting is acceptable. But I’ll get to that.
From 4-6:00 AM I reviewed and re-reviewed my AM Intern responsibilities. At 6 I put on all my cooking gear: undershirt, loose jeans, clogs, chef jacket, backwards Cal hat. I grabbed my extra sharp knives, notebook and camera and headed across the street to the kitchen located in the back of the main American Academy building. My first task, taking inventory. At times tedious, taking inventory is often confusing, but interesting, education and necessary. It seems to be one of the ways Mona and Chris come up with the daily lunch menus. Other morning tasks include filling salt containers, bowls with yogurt, and bowls with grana, slicing meat for panini, peeling and cleaning onions and garlic, lighting burners and picking up most of the deliveries that come in. That last part is actually pretty cool, especially when the deliverer is Giovanni Bernebei, the farmer outside Roman city limits from whom the RSFP receives huge crates of food each week.
I have only worked the lunch shift so far and have helped to prepare so many delicious dishes. Whenever anyone is making something I want to learn how to make I’ll watch. I’ll list a few things I’ve prepared and have watched others prepare:
- Lots of salads like Insalata di pomodoro e Peperoni
- Bruschetta Pomodoro
- Roasted Tomatoes
- Lots of meat and cheese slicing for panini
- Ricotta Ravioli
- Sliced pork over rughetta with salsa verde
- Cepolle – fried pollenta balls with induja sausage in the middle
- Sauteed escarole, chard
- Roasted Eggplant
- Boiled carrots and fennel
- Roasted Fenne with roasted purple onions
- Melanzane Puree with pizza bianca
- Fagiolini with endive and red onions and shaved fennel
- Cavetelli – pasta
- Orzo Salad with zuchini, green beans and pesto
- Fritatta with leeks and chard
- Matriciana Pasta al cepo – with a little handholding… (this is made with guanciale!)
- Faro con pomodorini, zcchine e onion
- Potato Salad
I wash and tear a lot of greens and I’d like to think I’m getting pretty good at it. By tearing I mean making bit size pieces of lettuce. I also really enjoy using the meat slicer; I like to see how thin I can slice prosciutto. Getting thinner.
A few words of warning: I love it here and I may never leave.
Stay tuned for infrequent updates and maybe even a recipe or two!