Our adventure started at the JFK International Airport, where we had to wait a few hours for our flight. While we waited we enjoyed some very good pretzel dogs and lemonade for a whopping $8, yeah definitely only in New York!
The almost 9 hour flight to Italy was definitely the longest flight many of us have ever taken, but it was a very smooth and calm flight with plenty of movies and snacks. Right before landing, we could see snow-white tipped trees on the nearby islands. It was a beautiful sight, especially since we are used to the tropics.
*Tip for other students: When you land at the airport, look for the “Vacanze Romane” Italian restaurant and café. It is to the left, near the exit of the airport. The chef and administrator of the practicum program always picks up students there.
Our first day in Orvieto, the Chef gave us a tour of “Zeppelin”, his restaurant, the Duomo (cathedral) and our apartments. The apartments where we stayed are actually part of a Bed and Breakfast and are very, very nice. One warning: Italians don’t often use air conditioning, so get ready for a lot of fans!
Our first week was extremely hectic. It was filled with: classes at the restaurant, road trips ranging from 10 min to 3 and half hours (Parma, Siena, etc.), car antics with the Chef, and many learning experiences thanks to Lorenzo’s busy and very insightful mind, as well as wine, coffee and food – lots and lots, and lots and lots of food!
*Tip for other students: Almost every bathroom in Italy has a different way to flush the toilet or to wash hands than what you may be accustomed to. Some are buttons on walls, others are pistons over the toilet, or even a type of pedal under the sink that has to be stomped on to release water from the faucet. So, save yourself a confused look and come with an open mind when you go to the bathroom!
We don’t want to give away all of the amazing views, ancient marvels and amazing food you will experience here, but we feel it is important that some harmful stereotypes about Italy are clarified. For starters, the pizza in Italy is not terrible, most tourists only come to the usual “touristy” places to try pizza and gelato (like Rome, Venice and Siena) and eat a sad Italian interpretation of American-style pizza with pre-made tomato sauce (by the way, tomato sauce is not a necessity of pizza) and thick, tasteless dough. If you want to try true Italian pizza, go to the more central or southern parts of Italy, like Parma or Orvieto. Here, freshness and authenticity are the name of the game with Pizzas that feature arugula, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto , fresh mozzarella and only the occasional tomato sauce (with vine-ripened tomatoes of course!).
For gelato, make sure not to just go for the pretty, high, fluffy looking ones, because they are probably filled with concentrates and stabilizers. Real, traditional gelato is slightly harder to find and is absolutely delicious. We actually found a pretty nice gelato place that’s open late, located near the amazing Duomo of Orvieto cathedral.
If you are expecting to see a sunset during the fall season, you will have a long wait because the sun goes down between 8:30 p.m and 9:00 p.m. Nightlife in Orvieto is actually pretty fun and diverse. The wine is very good, fresh and cheap!
One thing we can say for sure is that if you do decide to take the leap and go on this journey, you will have many amazing experiences to look forward to.
Work, work, work
Starting the 3rd week of our practicum, we began to actually work lunch and dinner service at the restaurant. The menu was not that complicated, but learning which plate is which is a little challenging because everything is in Italian. Make sure you try to practice their names a little in your spare time.
At first, it was a little slow in the restaurant and we spend much of our time learning some basic prep work for the kitchen and learning how the line worked. However, about almost a month into our practicum all that changed! The busy season arrived and with it came a multitude of clients and food enthusiasts. From that point on, the restaurant was flooded with cooking classes, cooking demonstrations, huge parties of people coming to eat at once and many customers.
After a while, the constant onslaught of cooking for usually about 8-9 hours a day (4 hours for the lunch service, a short “siesta” break when possible followed by the 4 hour dinner service) will tire you completely. The good news is that you will be well fed with a “family meal” twice a day (you’ll understand when you get here).
Apart from being well fed, the chef makes sure to set aside some days of the week to complete the trips that are part of the program itinerary. You may find that he even has a couple of surprises in store for you if time permits.
*Tip for other students: Depending on your practicum program, on your days off the chef will give you some money for food the day before or food from the restaurant to take home, so you do not have to worry about getting enough to eat!
Money, Days off and Transportation
Money, money, money! Remember that American dollars ($) have less value than euros (€), so change only a little of your money at the airport (in case of an emergency) and the rest in Orvieto or with the chef, because the airport has high exchange fees.
Got a day off and feel like traveling? Let’s talk transportation. The first step to leaving Orvieto is to walk (or take the shuttle – your choice) to the Funicolare at the bottom/right of Orvieto, (just ask the chef and he’ll guide you there). The Funicolare is essentially the towns’ bus station, however it also doubles as a way to go down the hill of Orvieto to get to the train station. It costs about 1.50 euros to ride the Funicolare and takes about 2 min to get to the bottom (it sure beats walking or taking the bus).
Once you get off the Funicolare, you will see the train station right in front of you. You can pretty much get a ticket to anywhere in Europe, with prices varying depending on the distance and which class of seating you choose. Personally, we prefered to use the “fast ticket” machines instead of the ticket tellers, because they can translate to any language and give you all the options and info for your train.
Once you make sure you have the location and correct train time (remember Europe goes by military, 24 hour clock) choose your ticket and look at which is your train number (usually a four digit combination) so you can look for which track your train will come on.
You can also buy your return ticket at the same time you buy your departure ticket, but if you are not sure how much time you are going to stay there, just buy the ticket later.
*Tip: Try to always travel in pairs for both safety and to make sure you don’t fall asleep and miss your stop! It is also a good idea to bring lots of water wherever you go.
Last Thoughts on our Experience
We believe this is an experience that everyone should do at some point, but obviously no place or trip is perfect. There have been moments that weren’t so positive (such as being “kicked out” of our apartment in the morning by an extremely irritated and impatient Italian because of a scheduled check out time confusion). The internet didn’t always want to work perfectly which can make it difficult to communicate sometimes. Work is sometimes stressful and tension can be carried back with you to your apartment or your freetime and you won’t always be 100% on the same page with the chef or sous-chef – but this comes with the territory.
As with any job or trip, ours had its ups and downs. There are many moments you will treasure and there will be many new and interesting people to meet. There will also be harder moments that don’t exactly brighten your day, but such is life.
The truth is that no matter what happens, the whole point of your internship is to provide you with a learning experience both in a cultural and culinary sense. After all, you are in a different country and a different culture, which will help you achieve the goal of growing both as an aspiring chef and as a person.
What you should take with you:
(While you can probably just buy many of these things in Italy, it’s good to be prepared.)
2. Chef knife
3. Voltage Adapter
4. Phone card
5. Laptop or tablet to keep in touch with friends and family (the chef supplies you with internet, not the greatest, but you can make do)
6. At least one towel
7. Bed sheets (depending on which B & B you are staying at)
9. Some basic necessities like toothbrush, shaving kit, soap and shampoo
For more information about the International Practicum program at Ristorante Zepplin in Italy, please contact ISHCA Practicum Coordinators: Melissa Montañez or Marie Balado at 787-257-7373, Ext. 3026