When Tony Rogowski joined Kendall’s fall 2014 trip to Italy with Chef Dina Altieri, who is dean of the School of Culinary Arts, and more than 20 students, he didn’t expect his entire approach to his passion—cooking—would change. The immersive experience made him realize he wanted international internships, which is why he worked with Marilena and Giulia at the Universita dei Sapori to secure several opportunities as an intern in Italy, learning everything from how to communicate with his colleagues to cooking authentic Italian pasta. Here, he shares his experiences:
This spring, you served as a commis/line chef at Le Tre Vaselle Resort and Spa in Torgiano. What was that experience like?
Le Tre Vaselle had five kitchens. There were five of us on the main kitchen line: Davide, Salvatore, Carlo, Chef Alessandro Lestini, and myself. Marguerite worked at the wine bar, which serves small plates, and Tomaso worked in pastry. We had a banquet hall for weddings and events, which sat a few hundred people at a time.
Timing, organization, and being flexible was necessary. Everyone stayed in their position, but when things got heavy, I was the ping pong ball. One day I worked in all five kitchens. It was stressful, but I learned a lot of different Italian styles and methods. Patience helped me improve at everything.
Tell us about your internship at the Country House Montali in Tavernelle di Panicale.
I lived within the late 12th century castle walls. When I woke up, I saw the lake and the mountains from where I stayed. Country House Montali, an Italian-Brazilian-vegetarian restaurant, was a half kilometer down the road. It is a bed and breakfast, with nine guest rooms and about 30 seats in the dining room.
I did everything. There were three cooks and one chef. We never reused food from the day before. The leftovers were our meals. If we had 10 people, we’d make 15 portions, so we ate what the diners ate. A lot of customers came from all over the world to eat at this restaurant. The stay includes breakfast and dinner, and lunch is optional. It’s all prepared from scratch that day.
I had learned a little bit of Italian at this point, but not enough for complete sentences. The staff was from all over the world: the chef was from Brazil, the dishwasher from Italy, the cooks from Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S., the gardener from Hungary. Languages would go flying when people were goofing off or things were stressful. We also learned about a lot of cultures from the people who came to eat there.
I met so many people. The people are all willing to help. My first trip there, just walking around during our free time, we had a map, but couldn’t figure out where we were. The streets ran every which way, like pasta thrown on a plate. We met an elderly gentleman who tried to help us, but a woman who ran across the street to help us ended up answering our questions. Everyone smiles and everyone helps everyone. There’s a nice family atmosphere.
When it came to the kitchens, in the U.S., chefs are starting to get calmer, but other countries may be harsher than you’re accustomed to. You have to stay flexible and be patient.
How did your courses at Kendall prepare you for your internships?
Kendall prepares you by providing solid core skills. A lot of the people I met were impressed with my knife skills. I learned how to read recipes and make things work as best as I could. Some things, like cooking methods, I couldn’t prepare for. Italy does pasta differently. I feel a lot more confident about making and serving pasta now. I want to learn more, so I bought a book about Italian foods and preparations.
What is your advice to other students who may want to get involved in something similar?
Always keep your options open. I was never big into Italian food, but I never limit myself. I’ve met so many students who are intent on cooking the food they know. It’s who you are, but always go with a new opportunity.
When you go overseas or another area of the U.S., ask why they use specific ingredients. It could be due to heritage or a more modern choice. In Italy, for example, people believe in their history. One colleague took me places and told me the histories of the towns, including the foods. I got firsthand experience with truffles and lentils. Experiences like these shaped me as a chef.