This past summer, 20 students traveled to Siena, Italy, for the two week-long study abroad program “Food and Culture: The Italian Experience.” The program was the first of its kind at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and it inspired Italian Studies assistant professor Vetri Nathan and chef instructor Angelo Guida to create a new course this fall, “The Art of Italian Cuisine.”
Nathan stated,“When we were doing the Siena course we saw some very profound changes in the students and how they relate to the food.” Nathan and Guida hope students taking their cooking classes will have a similar experience.
This non-credit course is offered through the College of Advancing and Professional Studies. Divided into six one-day classes, each devoted to a different region in Italy, the class gives students a chance to explore different regions in Italy through the distinct foods associated with them. “It’s interesting how Italy has maintained its regional identities, and they’re fiercely protective of it,” remarked Nathan. “We wanted to bring that and go away from the stereotype of how Americans view Italian food.”
Guida explained, “My idea is to bring some Italian love for food to the American people, and just show them how it can be very easy to make something good and fresh.” During the study abroad program, Vetri and Guida would go to local markets every day and purchase products to use for the students’ cooking class later in the day.
Jacob Kress, a sociology major and program participant, considered the hands-on approach the most exciting part of the program. Along with learning various cooking techniques, program participants filleted their own fish, gutted calamari, and made pasta. “A lot of methods were familiar [to me],” reflected Kress, “but it was fun to actually do it myself and have the one-on-one training with Chef Angelo instead of just talking about it.”
Guida intends to teach students cooking techniques, as well as the history of each region, its food, and why it all matters: “Italian food is very important to Italian culture. … We don’t just sit at the table to eat; we use the table and food to be better and build relationships. This is the main thing that the students in Siena learned.” Nathan explained, “It’s a good introduction for people to be more food-literate in their lives.”
Interested but on the fence about taking the course? “Try it. Just try it,” Guida said. “Go there, eat together, and learn how to prepare simple, good, delicious food.”