Sunday, September 5, 2010

Farm to Italy?

Though my stubborness attests to my Dutch heritage, I insist that Italian blood runs through my veins. My fascination with Italy began much earlier, perhaps in my enjoyment of forming meatballs with my ma for pasta, more likely through the romanticized fiction of "Under the Tuscan Sun;" it is a fascination that still holds today, perhaps stronger than ever. It is not simply the naturally artistic hillsides, sumptuous foods and notorious wines that draw me in, but the very way of life. Italian is a personality, one that is relaxed, appreciative, in the moment and from the Earth, the very traits I try to incorporate into my own cooking style.

It has been a short two and a half years that I have worked professionally in the restaurant industry, spontaneously entering Okanagan College's apprentice program as a cook, training under Chef Willi Franz at the Grapevine Restaurant in Winfield. Short, yes, but horribly formative. During this time I have come to understand my passion for food, and it begins in the soil. Just down the road from where I spend my nights cooking winery dinners, is the farm where I spend my days with beans and tomatos, and a few too many weeds. It is here, at Lake Country Culinary Farms (LCCF), that I find peace and inspiration, seeing (and smelling and tasting) first hand, the freshness of a lush basil plant, intensity of blossoming hot and sweet peppers, the seemingly eternal offerings of summer squash. These are the flavours, pure, unadulterated, natural, that I love to accentuate in what I create, to combine and play with and appreciate for each vegetable and herbs potent uniqueness. My home and heart is on the farm, my passion and career grow from it.

For such reasons this contest seems designed for me, allowing me the scavenge for dinner where I am most at home, in order to visit a country that I would one day love to call such. For now, my goals include running LCCF and continuing to learn from and cook with the brilliant chefs of the Okanagan, and until the presentation of this event, had planned to visit Italy as part of a WWOOF exchange ("Willing Workers On Organic Farms") to further my knowledge and creativity. Should this trip occur earlier as a result of theis competition, I know I will use my time preciously to learn and with each of my senses experience, a genuine and unabashed food culture, and take such an event along with me for the rest of my culinary journey.

I hope that you will consider me as a competitor, and allow me to prove to my Dutch Grandma that somewhere along the line, a little bit of Italy got in the family mix.


That was my application for a black box competition that should I win, would send me to Italy to work on an Agriturismo next fall. Of the six people that applied, only three were chosen to compete, and I am one of them. It is a life-come-true-opportunity just two weeks from now...and all i want to do is throw up.
Competitions are not my thing; i have never willingly entered one, and never intended to, but this: it is Italy (Italy-- say it like Sandra Oh in the afformentioned movie and you will understand my incredulity). How do you say no to that? I cant not try, i also cant think of anything else but the cookoff, oh, and i cant sleep so well. About that throwing up thing...
So here is the plan: cook simply and what i know. Pretend it is just lunch on the farm. Relax, breathe, season well and hope that you dont overcook whatever protein reveals its ugly face in that black box.
I need to brush up on meat.
And sleep.
Wish me luck.

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