The next day after my husband left for work, I opened the glossy, white folder containing the application forms. There was a myriad of paperwork to fill out – an application form, liability and photo releases, emergency data information and a scholarship application. I would need to supply copies of my passport, nine photos for my Italian work visa and proof of medical insurance. I also had to schedule an interview with a school psychologist (had they had problems with interns in the past?). To prove an acceptable level of culinary expertise, we had to pass a practical exam.
The practical exam had me worried the most. First, we had to demonstrate our knife cuts by doing 4 oz. each of carrots in the julienne cut, carrots in the brunoise cut, potatoes in the batonnet cut, minced parsley (it needed to be VERY finely cut and then washed in cheesecloth and wrung out so it was fluffy), and potatoes in a medium dice. In addition, we had to fabricate (cut up) a whole chicken and produce two supreme breasts (these are boneless breasts with a small wing bone scraped clean and still attached). Finally, we had to use one of the breasts to prepare a plate that included a sauce, starch and side vegetable. The details were left to our imagination. I decided to prepare chicken au poive with a brandy cream sauce, risotto Milanese which is made with saffron and sautéed broccoli with red pepper strips.
Chef Parmenter, my instructor in the second semester basic cooking class I was taking, and two other executive chefs judged our creations and did a critique afterwards. Chef Parmenter had been an Executive Chef who had worked up through the ranks at kitchens in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I had never fully understood how someone became a chef. It was interesting to learn that you could work your way up in a restaurant kitchen or complete a certificate, two-year or four-year culinary arts degree program.
When my creations were plated, I approached the long, stainless steel table at one end of the room where the chefs were sitting.
“What is this,” queried one of the chefs as he lifted the edge of my chicken breast distastefully with his fork. He reminded me of Simon on “American Idol.”
“Chicken au poive,” I answered.
‘The pepper overwhelms the mild flavor of the chicken. It’s very juicy and tender, but no one would eat something this spicy.” My husband and I enjoyed chicken prepared this way, but I just sighed and kept my mouth shut.
“How did you manage to both overcook and undercook your risotto?” asked the other chef. “Risotto is one of my personal favorites, but this is hard and mushy at the same time!”
“She did a nice job on the vegetables,” piped in Chef Parmenter. “They’re very colorful, he said as he smiled at me. I returned to my work station and started to clean up. I noticed the chefs angrily criticizing the dishes prepared by the other students as I wiped the counter top and washed my dishes. After the practical exam was over, Chef Parmenter came over to me and told me that I’d done just fine. He said the school needed to make sure the students they sent to Italy were well-qualified and would be good representatives of the school.
In the end, only five students were selected to participate in the program. I had not yet completed the Culinary Arts Certificate Program at HCAT and was both surprised and delighted that I was accepted. David, Brandi and Kirsten were in their mid 20’s and Ben was 18. I was in my 50’s!
The head of the Hospitality, Culinary and Tourism (HCAT) program held monthly information meetings for the interns. She gave us information about the hotels where we would be working and a detailed “what to bring” list that included 2-3 uniforms and our knife kits. She told us that each of us had to complete a scrapbook about our experience to include photographs and ten recipes that we had learned. At the end of the program, she would be coming to Italy to evaluate us by having a conference with our chefs and by sampling a “signature dish” prepared by each of us.
The front desk staff at the Italian hotels generally speaks fluent English, but the kitchen staff might not. Thus the students participating in the program would need to complete an Italian language class. I have always loved the Italian language and had already taken a year of classes, but no one else in our internship group spoke any Italian. The HCAT department arranged for a series of evening classes to help prepare us for our trip.
Mr. Paterniti was tall and stout with a deep, melodious voice. He was not a native Italian but spoke the language fluently. He provided us with handouts on cooking terms and food names which were very helpful, but class sessions consisted primarily of his reading the food names while salivating over every item. Classes seemed to stretch out forever, but I must admit that we left class hungry!