Chef Piero Turi is a man with a level of experience that cannot easily be ignored. Born in Trieste he studied in a hoteliers college where he fell head over heels in love with the kitchen. It wasn’t that he ate well, because he did, but for him, what was important was that in the kitchen, they cooked for others. He saw what joy the kitchen can bring to customers, the satisfaction that can only be experienced by taking a role in this unique place.
His career has weaved from one important experience to another, all in kitchens of a high quality and calibre such as Eden of Rome, Carlo Cracco’s Restaurant and even Bauer of Venice. He worked with the likes of Diego Rossi and renowned pastry chef, Andrea Tortora.
My experience with Piero was instantly rendered informal where, after a simple introduction he asked me to address him in that ever-so Italian fashion of “tu”. That “tu” (you) means something in Italy; that something is respect and ease – one look at how he worked with his students and you could understand that whilst he remains serious, he is calm and charming, profound and curious.
It was here, at the ALMA The International School of Italian Cuisine that I met Piero, my role for the day was to be a guest judge for international students in the Italian Culinary Program; rendered even more special by getting a thorough first hand understanding of the school with a first hand tour of this majestic location.
Back to Piero though, because this is important – his spirit remains rooted in southern Italy, you can tell this by simply looking at one of his dishes and understanding that it is never far from his mind. He is connected to his land even after all of the years spent away. His ethos as he explained sometime later is “we need to be human about things.”
His humanity doesn’t make him hide from the friendship and respect that connects him to other culinary wizards such as Giovanni Ciresa and Antonio Guida. He loves fish, his dishes are made with flavour, curiosity and beauty in mind. He loves art, and you can see artistically he is engaged through his plating. He is passionate about jazz, something else which becomes more apparent when you watch him heat oil in a pan, turning those sounds into a jazz concert.
“What do you expect the future to hold for you?” I ask, curious in the inner workings of the man: “I want to feel alive”. This answer alone, set up my day with the Italian Culinary Program. Students from all over the world, from Africa, Turkey, Canada, Croatia are preparing their dishes, two per person, one savoury, one sweet.
A board of tasters and examiners made up of the general manager of the ALMA School, Andrea Sinigaglia, myself, Zdravko Peric director of culinary arts of Kul In institute in Croatia and from professor Fabio Amadei each try the dishes. Each dish needs to have one key element; showcase Italy.
This is after all the ALMA school, a place where Italian cuisine is the heart and values of this institution. They have had the possibility, thanks to ALMA to work in great kitchens such as: Lopriore, Ghezzi, Bottura, Uliassi, Alajmo, Crippa, Esposito, Iaccarino.
These are all experiences that have contributed and made them aware of life in the kitchen, the value of teamwork, the smells and colours of the Italian territory.
And what about the exam? It’s the most intense part of the day. Even after watching the chefs prepare dishes, think about what they were doing and how it was working, this is what we’re here for after all. We sit at a table, we’re given a schedule and we follow it with detail, all the voting is done through a variety of requirements and criteria. At 12pm we begin tasting each of the 26 dishes.
From rabbit with polenta crusted potatoes to kidney stewed ragú with tagliatelle; Milanese risotto with ossobuco and buckwheat tagliatelle. Dessert was a mixture of strudel made from fried rice, bigné to apple ravioli. Each and every dish was emotional and a clear understanding that each student has taken what was an idea and transformed it into an Italian way of cooking.
The most beautiful part of the day however was reserved for the students who came to the table afterwards, to observe their faces full of enthusiasm and determination, fear and the willingness to express their gratitude even if there was some criticism of their kitchen – but we all know criticism helps us grow and get better.
We move to another room and fuelled on coffee we progress with another element of the exam, the oral one. This was about them telling us about their experience of Italy, an eye-opening journey for each and every chef involved. That was it, the exams were complete, their diplomas given, photos taken and smiles all around. This is where my journey ends, I have to go back to Sicily, a land that the students have yet to discover.
I will take my unique experience, one rich in humanity, smiles, gratitude and stories from each of the students that they wanted to share. I will take with me, them, because life is made of people and they are Binita, Pavitiren,Kresimir, Jordan, Simon Julien and more. I truly hope they become chefs, that they continue to study with care and hard work. But what I hope for the most is that their dreams can come true, and to continue to feel alive.