I have never been so anxious! While the majority of my time in Parma at the Academia Barilla was fascinating and every hour was packed with private lessons with chefs, Italian cuisine historians and trips out to meet with prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano producers, the final day of the practical and written exam had me sweating and fretting like never before!! I was on the phone to Patrick and my mother at 2am saying “This is the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on. I don’t know whether I can cook up to their standards! These guys are serious about protecting the authenticity of Italian dishes so I have to cook something that doesn’t break a single rule!” There are so many poor imitations of Italian dishes and this cooking school for both professional chefs and amateur cooks with a passion for Italian food is focused on teaching people how to cook REAL ITALIAN. You really develop an appreciation for the Italian palate. Do you know exactly how the cuisine differs in every one of Italy’s 20 regions? And what about the way to tell if your aceto balsamico has been aged 12 years or only two? Fortunately, with all the filming and articles I’ve written, I’ve eaten and cooked in just about every region in Italy so I just had to try to remember every meal I’ve ever tasted here and every piece of cooking advice I’ve received from farmers, housewives, shepherds, grocers, ex-boyfriends, chefs and chatty people on trains.
I cannot tell you how excited I was when the President of the Academia said, “Kylie, now it is official! We all knew you had this great passion (out of courtesy he didn’t define it as MANIACAL OBSESSION!!) for our country’s cuisine but now you have proved you have also the expertise in the kitchen to be a culinary ambassador for Italy.” Why do I get so emotional when Italians accept me as one of the famiglia? They were probably shaking their heads at such a sentimental straniera but I left the Barilla family of chefs and culinary experts with tears in my eyes. After working so closely with everyone day after day you really end up feeling like you’re a part of a family. I’d be rolling out pasta dough or jointing a rabbit and chatting away with them not only about Italian cuisine but also philosophy, love, politics, their childhood – somehow Italians can find a segue from food into all of these subjects.
The night before the exam I befriended this dear lady who owned the quaint little hotel I was staying in (Hotel Button), begging her for the use of her kitchen so I could test different desserts for the next day. One minute we were shaking hands formally and I was promising I would only be in her cucina for a maximum 45 minutes, eight hours later she was kissing my cheeks telling me I was now her adopted ‘figlia‘ (daughter). As I rolled out short crust pastry testing a crostata di limone she sat at her sewing machine smoking like a chimney with classic Italian power ballads blaring from her television recounting the recipes she would make here in Parma during the war when she was a teenager. I think people see my shows like When in Rome or When Patrick Met Kylie and assume that all these scenes with locals are set up and highly choreographed, but encounters like this literally happen to me every single day in Italy.
You can see this wonderful signora and some of the other friends I made in Parma in the photos below. Check out my previous post on this experience for more photos, my video of olive oil tasting and stay tuned for my upcoming video of my whole adventure in Parma, the culinary heart of Italy.