Bubbling mozzarella oozed over the freshly-cooked pizza dough, the reds of fresh tomatoes and greens of recently-picked basil complimenting the white cheese.
The plate looked like the Italian flag, the colors representing the country’s emblem, and for good reason: the group of aspiring chefs from Lambert, South Forsyth and West Forsyth high schools had just arrived in Rome, where they were receiving their first cooking lesson in the city.
Forsyth County Culinary Arts pathway students from the three schools spent 10 days in Italy this past summer, developing a deeper understanding of Italian cuisine and culture.
The students, accompanied by South’s culinary arts instructor Dawn Martin and other teachers, visited Rome, Florence, Bologna, Parma and Milan.
The trip furthered students’ knowledge of the country’s food and gave them a hands-on learning experience from Italian chefs.
It also marked the first pathways group from the United States to go on such a trip.
“One reason we wanted to do this was they learn how to cook [at school], but our students don’t get to go out together as a family and eat at a two-, three-star dining facility, so they really don’t know what we’re trying to teach them,” Martin said. “If they haven’t been on the other side of the table, how do you teach them these things if they haven’t seen it, if [they] haven’t had that service?”
Though the pathways program hired a French chef to take the group around Italy, Italian chefs ran the cooking classes.
In Parma, a city in the northern region of Italy, the group visited and took classes at Academia Barilla – Italian pasta giant Barilla’s international headquarters.
“The chef there – oh my goodness, he was intense,” Martin said. “The [students] got to see what it was like to work with someone who doesn’t finish their sentences and who comes back and is yelling at them, ‘why is this not done?’ and wanting to know what is going on.”
South senior Alexis Thomas said despite his intensity, that chef was one of her favorites.
“He was kind of hardcore,” she said. “He would get started and then be like, ‘you’ve gotta get this done fast,’ and then he would be back and ask, ‘why is it not done?’ But it taught you that you have to go quicker sometimes. We’re used to being a little slower, but having him be like, ‘OK, come on, come on’ was really [helpful.]”
The trip didn’t only focus on pizza and pasta, though; students visited meat facilities to learn how prosciutto was made and tasted the top 1 percent of all balsamic vinaigrette in the world at a 100-year-old balsamic vinegar factory, Martin said.
Thomas said what struck her most was the cultural differences between Italy and the U.S., specifically reflected in the countries’ markets.
“Something that was a great exposure to the culture was seeing their food-to-table, [especially] compared to ours,” she said. “We go into the grocery store [here] and food is not as fresh as there, and there was a pig that literally had just been slaughtered and we see that it’s just that fresh there. Having that exposure in Italy that you can’t get here in the United States is really incredible.
“Being able to take those fresh ingredients and using those in recipes and learning skills from the Italian chefs and the French chef was just a great experience.”
The culinary arts pathways program already has another trip in mind, this one to southern Italy and Greece, and students from this year’s trip are excited about next year’s.
For more information about Forsyth County’s Culinary Arts Pathways, visit www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/.