Archives for the month of: July, 2015

The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy:  This is an aerial view of the grounds which includes a hotel, Slow Food International’s offices, and the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Could you tell it used to be a castle? Check out the hotel here (where this photo is from): http://www.albergoagenzia.com/welcome_eng.lasso

My second stop after visiting my faculty advisor, Professor Simone Cinotto, in Torino, was visiting the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.  As you can see from the photo, there’s just about nothing in Pollenzo except for this gorgeous castle-turned school/hotel, a scattering of homes and businesses to the right, and miles and miles of farmland and agritourism sites as far as you can see.  When I asked Dr. Cinotto to recommend a good place for lunch, he only suggested about 5 great farm-to-table restaurants within a half hour (and Italians are not easy to please when it comes to food).

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Here is a plaque detailing some of the historical roots of the castle at the university.  Towering above is the campanile or bell tower (often located at the historic city center), shown above.

Fortunately I was able to spend the night in Bra with a graduate student at the university from California who is (at this moment) doing her required internship at an organization in London.  She took about 2 hours to give us the inside scoop on the school, describing how the course schedule works, types of classes offered and the ones she preferred, and the city in which she lived.  For example, in the university’s undergraduate program seen here, the course schedule includes a range of classes, from Sensory Analysis and Microbiology to Territorial Sociology (<–??).

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Inside a classroom at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy where you get to taste the food and eat it too!

In addition, programs include required food studies field trips to events in Bra and neighboring cities, another destination in Europe, and then another outside of Europe.  The school is hard work, don’t get me wrong, but for lunch you get to eat fine Italian cuisine made by aspiring chefs in a gorgeous castle.  That sounds awesome.

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A look outward from the University of Gastronomic Sciences which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site because it was once the Royal Palace of Savoy: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/823/documents

Although this young and selective university has only gone on to graduate a little more than 600 students since its beginning in 2004, the school has produced major talent.  I would personally like to vouch for two young vibrant graduates, Anna Bellotti and Grégoire d’Oultremont, who opened their beautiful restaurant L’Alfieri in Bra.  It’s intimate and modern, yet fun and colorful with an ever-changing menu and a chipper bartender that greet you upon entry (and offered us up some special cocktails which now have me putting black tea in every liquor).  Here you can read an adorable interview with them about why they decided to open their restaurant.

A super awesome photo that I did not take from Trip Advisor.

It was one of the best – if not the best – meal we had in Italy, so I highly recommend it.  Here is a beautiful mind map of the owners that I had to share, which highlights all of the intricacies of the restaurant, their quest to create a community-minded space that feels right to be there, with a strong professional backing that rigorously plans, sources, and funds their creative ideas.  And if I can find pictures of the food I ate that night, you all will be the first to see them.

Last but not least, here are some final shots of the university before I headed on my way to Parma.  Soak in its red brick archways, trailing vines of ivy, and gorgeous views and circulation patterns.  What a university.  By the way, interested in going there?  Check out the university’s website here or go crazy – apply for the university’s Fulbright and earn your MA from there in 1 year for free.

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The University of Gastronomic Science Grounds

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Part of my grant included my meeting and networking with Dr. Simone Cinotto, Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (a food studies university run by the farm-to-table organization Slow Food International).

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Dr. Cinotto arguing with a woman (who argued back) about the most recent year one could buy a pet at the market.  I stood by attentively…. 

Fortunately (!), Dr. Cinotto suggested we meet in Turin at Porta Palazzo – the largest open-air market in Europe.  Needless to say, I jumped into my rented Fiat and sped through crimson poppy-lined toll roads to make it there!  His instructions were simple:

Dear Kera can we meet at the corner of via Milano and Porta Palazzo (Piazza della Repubblica) at 11:00 am Friday? I trust you can find the intersection I am talking about on Google Maps. If you think it’s confusing let me know and we’ll choose another location.

I am 52, 6 feet, big, white hair, and black-frame looking glasses.

I responded:

Perfetto! I am 5 feet, very pale, am blind but wear contacts, and speak terrible Italia-ish, but I have seen your photo enough on various websites that I should be able to hunt you down.

See you soon e grazie!

And did I get lost?  No sirr-YES.  Yes, I got lost.  But luckily not too lost before I found him waiting patiently at one of the market’s busy entrances.  But I did spot his sterling gray locks from about 300 feet away (be impressed).

The rain-soaked streets of Turin

The rain-soaked streets of Turin – did I mention it rained that day?  What a great city to get some rain.

I apologized profusely for our delay, and he did what any Italian professor does best – he graciously extended, “Piacere” (nice to meet you), and dove right into a delightfully interactive lecture on the history of the market while we meandered through the vibrant tightly-wound alleyways of market stalls.  No time to stop and smell the roses though, since the pace moves rapid-fire, requiring you to “throw up ‘bows” to make it out of there with your wallet.

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Colorful fresh fruit at discount prices – all at your fingertips.

The market is HUGE, with more than 50,000 square meters, which works out to about a bajillion feet.  You can find more pictures and a brief history at The Wandering Epicures (this blog particularly emphasizes the fine meat selection available there).  Most importantly, what I learned was that the history of immigrants is essential to the food history of Italy.  You should actually check out Rebecca Black’s book Porta Palazzo: The Anthropology of an Italian Market, which Dr. Cinotto highly suggested I read to fully capture the rich cultural diversity of one of Europe’s main commercial spaces.

See those tiny squares? Those are food stalls that spread far and wide, inside of buildings and outside. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything 😦  There were too many choices and not enough time (since the market closes by about 1 PM).  You should definitely go!

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Simone and I walking through the fish market inside Porta Palazzo 

Traveling to Italy resulted in one dramatic realization – the names of Italian foods and wines are geographically significant.  The caprese salad, for example, (a simply delicious layering of fresh mozzarella, large tomato slices, fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar) is named caprese because it’s from Capri.  Like the classic Margherita Pizza, the salad’s freshness embodies the island’s warm Mediterranean climate, while its colors mimic the tri-color configuration of Italy’s flag.

The salad is usually served as an antipasto (or starter) and therefore is not really considered a salad but an appetizer in Italy, since they usually eat leafy salads after the main meat entree.

This is a photo of blogger Whitney’s version of her caprese salad (click for a link to her blog).

As food writer Nigel Slater explains, salad is as simple as reading from left to right.  The key is collecting the best-tasting ingredients in their prime:

Shopping rather than technique is paramount. This is not the moment for parsimony – only the most expensive buffalo mozzarella will hit the spot (it should be soft, quivering inside with a texture that is almost jelly-like. It should smell of cool, fresh milk). The tomatoes are more difficult to get right, but in a summer like this there are many good ones to be had. Keep them until they are so ripe they feel heavy with juice and have a deep herbal scent. Although cool tomatoes are most refreshing, they won’t be at their best straight from the fridge. And while good olive oil is important, it is the ripeness and flavour of the tomatoes and the quality of the mozzarella that matter most. Use the largest basil leaves you can find. The larger they grow, the more peppery and aromatic they will be. They should, legend has it, be torn gently into pieces by hand, not shredded with a knife, as this will breed scorpions.

Most American versions of Italian classics result in terrible train wrecks when TV chefs are at the wheel trying to make a quick buck on an updated variation.  A quick Google search turned up more than 800,000 hits for “caprese salad recipe,” Perhaps the simplicity of this culinary classic has helped preserve its roots.

Now back from the Italian coast with my souvenir balsamic vinegar from Modena – the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, with some aged varieties so expensive, tastes cost hundreds of dollars – I decided to try a little farm to table version.  I currently live in Muncie, Indiana, famously known for the Middletown sociological study conducted in the 1920s and now home to about 140 meth labs and thousands of acres of soy beans and corn.  My house, however, is a haven for homegrown veggies and herbs.

The mozzarella was freshly made in Cincinnati, the tomatoes from my aunt’s garden in Hahira, GA, the basil grown fresh on my back porch (where this photo was taken), the cucumbers harvested fresh from a coworkers’ garden two blocks away, and the drizzled balsamic vinegar transported all the way from Modena.  Here’s a map I made using Google maps, which you should definitely check out to see behind-the-scenes details and photos: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zJOHE5yzytcA.kRbVXmGH1-lU&usp=sharing

Mapping my Middletown Caprese Salad

Mapping my Middletown Caprese Salad, from ancient Rome to Muncie, Indiana, using Google Maps

And here’s the final product!  It was definitely a transatlantic culinary success (although I still prefer the classic).

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In a spark of pure wonderful coincidence, I stumbled across the concept visualization of Expo 2020 in Dubai – and boy does it look amazing, so I wanted to share.

To begin, Dubai’s Expo abstract theme, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” is organized into three main sub-themes: mobility, sustainability and opportunity that are visualized by three main plazas at the center of the park, shown here:

In contrast to Shanghai’s Expo park which was organized similar to the block patterns of New York City, and Milan’s Expo park which was generally organized chaos, Dubai’s Expo is organized with a strong center complex that serves as the heart of the park, housing shared pavilions for entertainment and commercial and diplomatic networking.

As demonstrated by the visual, these three plazas are supported by a dynamic structural architecture that directs airflow and traffic to the three corners of the park.  (This is really going to come in handy when tons of people are saturating the park’s core in search of shade on those scorching summer days in the desert sun.  Dubai Expo, if you’re listening, you should have some walk-through misters like Disney World.  That’s all I’m saying….)

The map of Shanghai’s Expo, 2010, which reveals how the park was organized along main lines of circulation

Expect more details in the future breaking down the map, design, and concept of Milan’s Expo for 2015.

In honor of American Independence Day, I wanted to give you some details about the US Pavilion at the Milan Expo!  In contrast to the USA pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 (I’ll give you a better comparative study another day), this pavilion not only has corporate sponsors but also government funds which enables more creativity and flexibility in the design process.  The building’s design – a very simple two-story building with a linear stacked design – boasts one of the world’s largest vertical gardens that flex horizontally to catch the sun’s rays.  Designed to mimic the structure of a barn, the pavilion’s theme of “farm to table” food is part of the US’s mission to work with companies and nations to use simple farming, good nutrition, and agricultural engineering to feed the world’s 9 billion people by 2050.

A rendering of the USA Pavilion at the World Expo in Milan, with one of the world’s largest vertical gardens

Follow the USA pavilion on Instagram @usapavilion2015 to see today’s US-sponsored events – today they have marching bands, cheerleading, flash mobs, and cupcake sales in honor of the 4th.  On their Instagram account you can also see a super quick behind the scenes look at the US pavilion.

Happy 4th!!