giovedì 27 febbraio 2014

MARCH 2014 at ISTITUTO EUROPEO: Schedule of Activities

Carnival in Florence
March 2014 (March 3rd 28st)

 Mon  3    9:00 am        Written and oral placement test
               7:30 pm       Welcome dinner € 30
Tue   4    2:00 pm       Presentation about cultural activities in Florence in March
Wed  5    12:30 pm     Lunch (tastings of typical Tuscan cuisine) € 20
Thu   6    2:00 pm       Movie: “Amarcord” by F. Fellini
Fri     7    7:00 pm       Dinner in trattoria € 30
               11:30 pm     Night out at the disco
Sat    8    7:30 am       Hiking in Chianti with lunch and wine tasting € 45
Sun   9    8:00 am       Day tour to Pisa, Siena & S. Gimignano with lunch € 50

Mon  10  1:30 pm       The Director meets the students of Istituto Europeo
Tue   11  3:00 pm       Visit to a Florentine workshop: Lastrucci’s mosaics
Wed  12  12:30 pm     Lunch (typical tastings of Tuscan cuisine) € 20
Thu   13  2:00 pm       Movie: “I soliti ignoti” by M. Monicelli
Fri     14  7:00 pm       Dinner in trattoria € 30
Sat    15  9:00 am       Day tour to Pisa € 25
Sun   16  8:00 am       Day tour to Verona & Garda Lake € 65

Mon  17  2:00 pm      Visit to Alinari Museum € 9
Tue   18  2:00 pm      Movie: “Il Divo” , by P. Sorrentino
Wed  19 12:30 pm      Lunch (typical tastings of Tuscan cuisine) € 20
Thu   20  2:00 pm      Conference: “Dante and his Time
Fri     21  7:00 pm      Dinner in trattoria30
               11:30 pm     Night out at the disco
Sat    22  8:45 am      Day tour to S. Gimignano, Siena & Chianti with lunch € 45
Dom  23  8:00 am      Day tour to Montepulciano, Pienza & Montalcino with lunch € 69

Mon  24  2:00 pm      Visit to Ferragamo Museum € 5
Tue   25  2:30 pm      Day tour to Monteriggioni & Castellina in Chianti € 30
Wed  26                      Movie: “Il nome della rosa” by J. Jacques Annaud

Thu   27 5:00 pm       Concert provided by the artists of Istituto Europeo
               7:00 pm       Farewell dinner € 30
               11:30 pm     Farewell party at the disco
Fri     28  12:30 pm     Farewell party. Awarding of attendance certificates/diplomas


venerdì 21 febbraio 2014

Ethics and Beauty in Florentine restaurants - Our suggestion today: ZIBIBBO FIRENZE

Nicola Di Leo, chef at Zibibbo

Interview by Fabrizio Ulivieri 
Translated by Louisa Loring

I would like to start by knowing a little bit about Zibibbo's Chef, Nicola Di Leo.

I come from the deep south originally but I lived in other areas such as Bologna for years.  I haven’t followed the traditional culinary path as far as training.  I graduated from classical high school and then went on to graduate in law in Bologna, where I lived for six years and worked different culinary jobs to support myself while in school.  After that, I moved to Florence where I started working seriously in food service, having decided I didn’t want to use my law degree.  I worked in several different restaurants, including the Gucci restaurant in Piazza Signoria, but didn’t find many opportunities for growth.

In talking to not only you but also, other chefs, it is clear that a real chef is born from real experience and not necessarily a traditional form of training.

Yes, indeed.  In fact, some of my past coworkers who graduated from Buontalenti, the culinary and hotel management school here in Florence, are of course, greatly talented, however, they didn’t shine or excel beyond expectations.

So you came to cooking practically by nature.  Where does this natural relationship come from?

For the love and passion of eating.  As my friend Peter says, you are from southern Italy, of course you love and know how to cook.  And there is this sort of ritual around food in the south, even too much maybe (laughs). Growing up, it was almost a challenge between my brother and I to try and help our mother out by cooking for everyone. 

What type of cuisine do you find at Zibibbo? What are your goals as a restaurant and what kind of clients do you cater to?

Here at Zibibbo we stray away from the traditional Tuscan cuisine and do other things such as livers, pasta al cacio e pepe, which we have renamed after the specific cheese we use, but there are also international dishes that you would typically find overseas such as foie gras and fish prepared in various ways.  Our goal is to cook for "medium-high level clients". We don’t want to be unreachable to most people but neither put ourselves in competition with the average type of restaurants here in town because unfortunately, it is very touristy.  Thus, we try to rediscover tradition and innovate by offering plates that you can’t find in other restaurants.  Our main rule of thumb is to make the most possible by hand in the restaurant.  For example, we don’t use any type of pre-made pasta, except spaghetti; everything is made from scratch. 

You talk about innovation.  What pushes and inspires you to go outside the box?

First of all, we always try to satisfy the public desire.  Luckily, here, I have the chance to experiment and maybe serve something that is risky.  We have, for example, various deserts like tarte tatin that was made for the first time with pears that gives a sort of sweet and sour taste that everyone might not like.  Or we have something called ‘fried custard’ which is absolutely an unknown.  Innovation is also rooted in rediscovering those dishes that were once considered ‘poor dishes’ that are often discredited in high cuisine but can actually be validated by giving them a new spin and reintroducing them.  Italy is so rich in its different regions and thus, there is such an array of dishes.  Even at fourteen kilometers away from the town where that dish was born, it becomes foreign.  We also go around to different festivals where we look to make these dishes known by bringing them to a bigger public here at Zibibbo. 

What is your relationship between culinary trends and your vision? Who do you look to for inspiration?

Sincerely, I believe we have made pornography out of food.  What I mean is that it has become a bit too trendy.  Looking at TV series, you see these shows in which chefs are trying to complicate things as simple as buttered pasta.  A simple plate, though, if done correctly, is unbeatable. Obviously, the presentation is important; it is something we like and we try to include.  The Chef Alessandro Borghese, who has a program on RealTime, Cucina con Ale, represents me well.  He travels around Italy collecting recipes from small, old townswomen and brings them back, making them accessible to everyone.  That is exactly what I admire: making things accessible. When you arrive at levels too much psychological, you loose the true sense of the food.

Yes, in fact, they say that if you want to test a famous chef, make them create a simple dish like pasta with tomato sauce.  It is very hard to make well because the simplest things truly are the hardest to make.

I have had the unfortunate chances to work with people who, when presented with the challenge to cook a simple dish for the family with a baby, he or she can’t manage to create it well because they have never really learned the basics but have been overly trained in those more sophisticated dishes.

What is the hardest aspect of your line of work?

The most difficult aspect is to maintain lucidity and awareness.  You spend many hours in the kitchen and one thing that is very important and difficult to maintain, is to keep passion alive.  The most important thing is to always be enthusiastic about what you are doing.

From what I know, one of the hardest things is to form a team. In your opinion, how can you form a good team?

After having a group of people, the most important thing is for the leader to understand the potential in each person. He needs to try to push them to arrive at their maximum potential without having to ask above and beyond.  At that point, it is his job to help them grow and make each member feel a part of a greater whole.  By making the line cooks feel like what they are doing is just as important as the work of the su or master chef, it creates the feeling of indispensability and of harmony, which comes through in the dishes. 

What are the difficulties and delights of working in Florence? How can this be helpful or how can it complicate things?

I adore Florence; it has given me everything.  I think it is a luxury to work in Florence and every chef has a dream to work here because of the beauty in just arriving to work in your bike, as I do.  The hard part is the masses of people, which, however, keep this city alive even in hard economic times.  There are pros and cons, like with everything but there are so many pros in this case that it would be the best if we could learn to infiltrate these tourists with the Florentine culture. 

Finally, do you have a piece of advice for someone who wants to enter into this line of work?

I would advice to start working seriously as soon as possible. Be humble and don’t become stuck in any role or job.  Be conscious of your capacity and believe in yourself.  Always try and obtain a goal and express yourself. 

Alessandra, head hostess and waitress at Zibibbo
A good restaurant is indeed made up of a team, including those outside the kitchen. Everyone works together to make this restaurant and so Alessandra, the head hostess and waitress volunteered to speak with us also.

What is the most challenging and best aspect of this type of work?

We aim to make our patrons feel as if they were at home, which means making them feel welcome by introducing them to new things and making them feel comfortable by being disposable to them.  The most challenging aspect is to find the balance between being friendly and allowing people their privacy and comfort.

What must you have to do this work? What do you do to prepare your employees to be successful?

Communication is key.  Communicating with the clients and showing that you believe in the food and restaurant you work for makes a huge different.  If you believe in it, they will believe in it too.  It is also important that all our employees understand how dishes are made and what they taste like so they can better guide our patrons and help them choose a dish that they will like even if they have dietary restrictions.  In this way, we can communicate better what our food is all about, including information about where ingredients come from, what the process is and what the end result is.

What is the main distinction between the two main types of clients that come here, intending tourists and locals?

With tourists, they eat here because they know they are looking for this specific kind of food and service. It is unlikely that he or she will leave feeling unsatisfied because they came with a certain expectation that was met. With locals, they come based on word of mouth or suggestion and it is natural that not everyone can like the same thing. In this case, some people may not be satisfied because they don’t understand our philosophy or our mission.

mercoledì 19 febbraio 2014

Interview with Cristina Reinecke, owner of Mama’s Bakery in Florence

by Louisa Loring

How was this bakery born here in Florence?

It was born from an idea my husband, Matt, mostly had, who is American.  We had worked for many years in business but then wanted to change direction and open Mama’s Bakery because there was nothing else like this that had bagels in Florence.

Did you two always have this dream or was it something that just came to you one day?

No, it was never a dream that we had beforehand.  It was something that actually started suddenly.

So was it hard to change the type of work you were doing all of a sudden?

Actually, at that point we had already left our old jobs and were looking for a substantial alternative to the typical, daily work we were doing beforehand.  And this was the decision we decided to make.

And where does the name Mama’s Bakery come from?

We chose the name because it is very easy to remember and a name rather known in the United States.  I had never seen any place in any part of Italy called by a name such as this so I thought it was perfect but mostly, because it is easy to remember.  Mama is a word that also makes you think of family and of the home and that is what we have tried to create, a homely feeling.  At this point, we have been open for about five and a half years.

Bacon bagel
The types of things you offer here such as bagels are not at all easy to make.  How did you learn to make these types of things?

To learn about bagels, Matt took a bagel course in the United States and then he took another course in Italy to learn how to make other types of breads.  Thus, he has used both techniques and that which he learned over the years but also, he has learned various secrets throughout the way. 

What is the hardest part of this type of work here? And the part most rewarding?

The schedule and hours that are needed for the bread making.  It is early; we could say even the night so for that, it can be difficult.  I would say the management part can be hard, working with our customers I mean.  The most rewarding part is at the same time working with our customers.  It is nice interacting with them and seeing them come in and leave happy because they don’t always come in so sure of what they will find.  New clients often come in a bit unsure of what they are getting into but they always leave with a smile on their face, which is nice to see.

Would you say your customer base is mostly American or Italian?

By now they are mostly Italian.  They probably make up about 60% of our customers.  Many of them are also American students who are studying in Florence for a year and want to come to a place where they are reminded of home. 

And would you say there was a moment in which this changed, the switch from mostly Americans to mostly Italians?

Yes, at first, our clients were mostly only American but then slowly, we tried to break into the Italian market and it worked. 

Do you try to combine American and Italian flavors together by reinventing a traditional American sandwich by adding an Italian twist?

In a way yes because there are typical Italian flavors and ingredients such as prosciutto crudo but rather than trying to bring Italian cooking into the mix we aim to add a more international element.  That is what we really try and focus on.

What is the best selling item on your menu?

Definitely the bagel with lox and cream cheese and the club sandwich mainly because they are hard to find in Florence, especially done well and here, they are very good. 

Do you have future plans for the Bakery? Maybe intentions to open another location?

We would consider opening another bakery but for now, we are very happy where we are and with what we are doing.  We have plenty to keep us busy here!

To end, do you have a piece of advice for someone who wants to open a bakery for the first time?

You need to be very strong and courageous, and have a lot of patience. You cannot be rushed and need to wait to see results because it is not instant. Like I said earlier, this idea was born quite suddenly but it was important for us not to improvise things but to learn to do things well, such as making bagels because it needs to be long lastly and of good quality because if not, people will not return.


martedì 18 febbraio 2014

The Hands Statue in Yerevan, Armenia

by Gayani Simonyan

The original white marble The Hands Statue was brought to Armenia from an Italian city Carrara representing the friendship between the two twinned cities- Yerevan, the capital of Armenia and Carrara, Italy. This sculpture was put in the park located on the corner of Moskovyan and Teryan streets neighboring “Yeritasardakan” (Youth) metro station and symbolizing the friendship between Armenian and Italian people. This is the story known to the majority of people living in Armenia.

As a respond Yerevan sent the people of Carrara a model of memorial fountain made of tufa, and decorated with national motifs, the replica of which is placed in Yerevan not far from “The hands of friendship” sculpture. This memorial was made by well-known Armenian sculptor Ara Harutyunyan and arcitect Rafael Israelyan.

The bilateral donation was done in 1967. This year was an abundant year for opening new statues. It was in 1967 that Mother Armenia Statue in Yerevan came to replace a monumental statue of Joseph Stalin and was put in Victory park, then the statue of Mesrop Mashtots (the inventor of Armenian alphabet) was  opened in front of Matenedaran (repository  of ancient manuscripts).
In addition to this, a memorable medal and a book were awarded to Yerevan by Carrara, as a symbol of friendship, which are kept in the Yerevan History Museum and displayed with the other exhibits associated with the Sister Cities. 
Ruzan Khachatryan, an Armenian skilled journalist, is taking the track, going deeper on this issue and making a short film that brings forward many interesting things about the history of this Hands Statue.
In 60th when the two cities were opposed to be sister cities:  Yerevan as a city of tufa stone known to the world, and Carrara also as a city of stone known for its marble.  So these two cities were proclaimed to be sister cities.
In 1965 the sculptor Ara Harutyunyan with his Adolescence statue took part in biennial of Carrara. During these 10 days they managed to visit the marble quarry that the Italian famous architects including architect, sculptor, painter Michelangelo were using.
Coming back to Armenia Ara Harutyunyan is telling Grigor Hasratyan, the head of the executive committee of Yerevan City Council, about a statue that he had seen in the quarry. The same year Grigor Hasratyan with his delegation is visiting the quarry of marble in Carrara and making a contract to transfer the hands statue to Yerevan and give the memorial fountain instead. In 1967 the memorial is transferred to Carrara with the sign on it: “In segno di fraternità Erevan Carrara”. 

Now about the unknown mystery that has been undiscovered for ages.
What statue did Armenians see in Carrara marble quarry?
According to Aram Harutyunyan (son of sculptor Ara Harutyunyan), his father notices in quarry some parts of a big statue thinking that it’s Jesus Christ’s statue not collected yet: his head with long hair, 2 hands- the right one symbolizing trinity. He is being told that the statue won’t be collected anymore because the sponsor refuses to pay, the author doesn’t want to continue his work and thus the fragments are left in this quarry. His father realizes that they can’t transfer Jesus Christ’s head, so he decides to take the hands.
Ruben Hasratyan, son of Grigor Hasratyan, agrees on the hands being part of Jesus Christ’s statue.
It would be dangerous to take Jesus Christ’s head to Armenia at that time as during Soviet period the rejection of belief of existence of deities was propagated.
So the mystery of the Hands was known only to a few people and only some could guest that the right hand is symbolizing trinity.
Aram Harutyunyan, judging by the size of hands, says that the statue is supposed to be around 15- 20 meters.

There’s a similarity of hands and sizes of this statue with the “Christ of Havana” that Jilma Madera, a well-know sculptor created. The statue is about 20 meters composed of 67 pieces that were brought from Italy and put in Cuba’s capital, Havana. It was inaugurated on December 24, 1958 before the hands could be put in Yerevan.
Just fifteen days after its inauguration, on January 8, 1959, Fidel Castro entered Havana during the Cuban Revolution. The same day the statue was hit by lightning and its head was destroyed. But it was subsequently repaired.

Media was silent about what happened with the hands of the statue but it was written in American News journal in 1963 the testimony of Raul Mendoza, an architect who ran from Cuba by ship and repaired the head of the statue. He said that Fidel Castro’s government took the lightening conductor out of the statue’s head in order it wouldn’t be safe of lightening and to show that God is a myth and his statue - defenseless. Should the architect speak about it, he would be sentence immediately.
Armenian architects are excluding any connection between the statues in Havana and the one in Armenia. Both the author and the complete sculpture, where the Hands statue derives from, remain unknown.