If you take some vacation from work and, instead of spending those days with your family, decide to use them to do a stage in a restaurant kitchen, would you say your food obsession has gone too far? I would probably say yes (but feel free to leave your comments about this below), though saying so I'm only hurting myself... because that is exactly what I did two months ago.
I travelled the about 1000 km I need to get to Italy not to dine at Dal Pescatore or to taste the culatelli at Al Vedel, but to spend a week working split shifts in the kitchen of Locanda della Tamerice in Ostellato, near Ferrara. I had gotten in touch with Tamerice's chef, Igles Corelli, through a chat I organized on the eGullet Society's Italy forum with him as a guest. I wasn't really looking for a stage at the time. Chatting about cuisine with Igles and his fantastic wife Pia I just mentioned my curiosity about seeing how a restaurant kitchen works from the inside. Well just drop by, was the answer. How could I miss a chance like this? Bags packed I made my way to Italy as soon as I could.
Before starting my stage I thought a lot about the books and articles I read on restaurant kitchens (especially Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef) and on how my experience would compare. Upon reflection I could quickly see how it would be silly to do so. Each kitchen has its own story, character and quirks. There might be a common trait that keeps them all together, but until I collect enough experience I'd rather avoid being so presumptuous as to think I've understood how kitchens and cooks generally are.
Locanda della Tamerice's kitchen is a special place. There are excellent ingredients available, a concentrated but warm atmosphere and above all a great dedication to the job at handall of which made the time I spent there an eye opening experience and made me regret having only one week time. On the other hand more than a week and I would have found a very unhappy wife on my return home.
The leadership and experience of Igles Corelli, who is one of the chefs who has left a mark on Italian cuisine in the last twenty years, are there setting an example for everyone else. No wonder that the crew is made up of young, passionate and very dedicated people. There is a special care and effort in motivating the younger chefs and culinary students spending some time here to learn, something which I believe is not common in other kitchens (at least judging from what I've been told by others), and which meant that even I as the amateur of the bunch managed to learn a few things and hopefully give something back too, if only in dedication. There is a certain degree of tollerance for mistakes, though not on the line clearly, but if someone really strays from the beaten track there will always be sous chef Gianni Gnessi, a very special guy, to prod their buttocks.
Sure the work is hard. When you work for 14 hours 5 days a week on split shifts you are completely knackered by the end of the week. But would I want to go back? You bet. No office or research job I had till now has ever managed to make me feel so involved into something. The fun, tension, thrill and satisfaction are worth every minute of the job. My only regret? I wish I had found out before.
Locanda Della Tamerice
Via Argine Mezzano, 2
44020 Ostellato (FE)
Phone: 0533 681811 - 0533 680795
I collected the best pictures of my week at Locanda della Tamerice here, and I con only hope they manage to give at least a feeling of what the atmosphere is like.
If you're interested in knowing more about the restaurant's cuisine you might take a look at my comments over on the eGullet forums. It is not a review, since I'm just too involved, but I think I managed to keep my critical honesty when it comes to the main points.