Food & Drink

Italy offers delights for paunch and mind

EDITOR'S NOTE: Art Institute of Charlotte culinary dean Joseph Bonaparte has been sharing lessons from his summer program at ItalCook, a special program on regional Italian cooking. This is the final installment.

I went to Italy seeking inspiration. Did I find it? Yes. Did I find all the answers I was looking for? No.

The school I attended was fantastic and exceeded my expectations. The food was spectacular, the people were wonderful and the scenery was breathtaking. But instead of feeling sated with all that I learned, I left Italy feeling like there was much more to absorb.

The school is set up for non-Italians with professional culinary experience to visit and study the regions of Italy, taught by chefs from those regions. My class was small, just two Americans and three Japanese, ranging from 27 to 34.

The experience gave me plenty of things to ponder. One was teaching. I hope it doesn't sound preachy, but I think all teachers should be required to return to school, to experience being a student again.

Turning the tables makes it easier to evaluate effective teaching methods, gives us insight into our own strengths and weaknesses, and reminds us to have empathy with our students. Many teachers forget what it was like to be a student. If you want to be a great teacher, you probably shouldn't.

I was reminded that my love and passion for food has never been greater.

I learned I could eat more than I ever dreamed possible. About halfway through the course, the Japanese students began to rub my belly. “Il Pancia” – the paunch – was my nickname.

I could get great espresso at any roadside gas station. But Italian culture isn't perfect. I can't tell you how many incredible meals I ate while listening to lousy American music.

I came back more committed than ever to the Slow Food movement and to supporting local food, which is good, clean and fair.

I discovered a deeper passion to learn more about my own country's regional traditions, products and cooking techniques. I feel more compelled than ever to pass my knowledge on to others and to help the fight to restore and protect our great food heritage.

I would like to send out a sincere thanks to all who helped make this possible, especially the students, faculty, and staff at the Art Institute of Charlotte.

Go out and buy some locally grown products from a farmers' market near you, then go home and cook some real food with your family. Keep it fresh, and keep it simple!

Buon appetito.