There are many reasons why people want to pursue a career in culinary arts: the love of food, learning about different cultures through their cuisine, the dream of becoming a famous chef, and perhaps the simple idea of cooking to make people happy and make a living from it. Whatever your drive is to become a chef, one common denominator among us all is PASSION! A career as a chef is a hard one and becomes a long journey to truly make your mark and reach your ultimate goal as a professional chef. The road toward your culinary dreams will be shaped by the many cooking experiences that you will encounter along the way. Learning to cook is obviously a big part of becoming a chef. However, the path that you venture on to make it happen, and the people and places that you will encounter inevitably will mold you far beyond the cooking. The article below was written by me many years ago. It is a piece from my diary when I attended a cooking school in the small remote town of Costiglioli di Asti located in Piedmonte, Italy. The name of the school is The Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. Cooking and learning secret culinary techniques are a major part of a culinary education, but in addition to that, the ability to travel, and the experiences that come with that will enhance your cooking as well as you as a person. Therefore, the path to your culinary greatness is equally as important and on it is where your spiritual journey begins. This “parallel road” offers many opportunities to grow and learn about yourself. This miraculous opportunity is what makes a career as a chef so very alluring to many people. Eventually, your life will settle down and the travel and quest for more and more culinary knowledge will quiet down too. Once you reach this point you will most likely be in a place where you can now inspire and guide others through the wondrous world of becoming a chef.
Costiglioli d’Asti | Culinary Training and Life Lessons
Costigliole d’Asti is located among the beautiful Monferrato Hills near the Langhe territory. The land is famous for its rural traditions and it is particularly known for its world renown wines. The vineyards of Costigliole d’Asti are the most extensive in Piedmonte. This is a very small quiet village and a perfect place to connect to the rhythm and balance of local life. The castle itself is one of the most impressive and best preserved in the entire region. It was built about a thousand years ago and it still retains much of the original structure, including many marvelous Gothic arches. The magnificent castle was completely renovated inside to create a state of the art international culinary school.
Additionally, there was also an entire section of the castle devoted to the study of viticulture and enology. Costiglioli d’Asti is world-famous for its wine production and the wine program here is a great part of the overall education and cultural experience.
As you can imagine, the excitement of being in Italy and attending such an outstanding cooking academy in a castle was very exhilarating at times. These inspirational feelings are what fuel those big culinary dreams of aspiring chefs. The castle was about a fifteen-minute walk from the dorms, and I greatly looked forward to the early morning walks each day. I purposely left early to try to experience the exquisiteness of the tiny rural roads and the calming quiet that this village presented each morning. This walk offered nice meditation time: a private time to be in my own thoughts and to set the tone for the day. I was awestruck by how the mornings began so very slowly. As each morning passed in Costiglioli d’Asti, I noticed how more and more the slow pace of life began to have a positive effect on me. My five senses slowly came to life as I’d watch the light fog gently lift up from the vineyards across the rolling hills. I’d hear the roosters in the distance as they greeted the morning sun. I’d breathe in the freshest air I had ever inhaled. The only other sound was the crunching noise of the gravel road beneath my feet, and even the pace of that sound began to slow down with each passing day. I no longer felt that urgent need to rush or to quickly move through the morning to get where I needed to be as quickly as possible in order to not be late. Here in Costiglioli d’Asti, morning was something to cherish, not to rush through.
This special village was in perfect rhythm with the way morning arrives each day in Italy: slow and easy. The leisurely rhythm dictated the pace of life in the little town of Costigliole d’ Asti, and the locals greeted every day in the same welcoming manner. They had contentedness to their modest village, its traditions, and their particular purpose within the town. They enjoyed the offerings that life provided them in a very natural way. This balance allowed them to savor each part of every single day in a way that I had never before experienced. Here in this village, any stress, anxiety, and pressing worries I had somehow diminished in importance. Poof! They became instantly small through because of a new way of life that I was experiencing. This local experience was as equally important and life-changing as the daily cooking classes that I was attending. These peaceful surroundings were a far cry from the subways, PATH trains, and taxis I was taking every day in my life back in the United States. There was no frantic rush to get somewhere; I found this to be very captivating and comforting. It was a blessing to be able to relish in this “easy-going atmosphere” that Italians refer to as “la dolce vita”!
For the first time in my life, I actually felt the rhythm of life as it should be experienced. As a young man, who was filled with a great passion to be the best chef he could possibly be, I had never allowed myself to rest a single moment from the day I set out on my culinary journey. Experiencing a slow but very real connection to the countryside environment of this small town opened my eyes to the day-to-day Italian life; that was truly transforming for me as well as for many of my fellow chef friends.
I finally realized one morning that our dreams, at times, can hijack the balance in our lives rather than enhance it. A person needs to find an equilibrium between living a passion-driven life and experiencing life for what it really is at the day to day level. Having an understanding of this is an extremely important life lesson and an overall understanding of true happiness. Moments like this is when you will encounter these small but powerful experiences that will help to create a deep positive change in you as you strive toward your culinary dreams. If you are an aspiring chef this is definitely something for you to get excited about.
I reached an ultimate realization during my many slow morning walks up to the ancient castle– the key to happiness is balance. This is no great secret for some people, but for those of us who have never had balance in our lives and eventually somehow find it, there is a sense of enlightenment and peace that comes over us. Happily, for me, I found a piece of the puzzle that was greatly missing from my life during the time I spent in the very small village of Costiglioli d’ Asti. It was here that I learned the true meanings of the words slow, steady, beautiful, and la dolce vita.
Photo Credits: These photos were given to me by ICIF and were taken by the very talented Le foto di Marzo with the exception of the one vintage photo which was taken during my time living in Costiglioli d’Asti.