A very special Italian final

Many ingredients bring together not only a delicious menu, but a single dish of friendship. Maria Luce Ronconi gave a different kind of final exam to the class she teaches at the Culinary Institute of America.

Occasionally, I am called to teach Italian at the Culinary Institute of America, located in Hyde Park, NY. It is one of the finest cooking schools in the country. The students share a common passion for the art of cooking, be it in the pastry and bakery or in the culinary program. And they’re really good at it.

For most, however, learning a foreign language is not as easy. I understand them very well, so I try to find many ways to inspire them and get them involved. We have gone on field trips to a café, the local Italian deli, even to the train station. As Christmas was approaching, I invited them to visit Mariapolis Luminosa, the little city of the Focolare where I live, with its large cafeteria and dining hall, as well as its international nativity scene display.

They enjoyed it very much! Friends of mine from different countries welcomed them, speaking Italian and showing them the kitchen, where they could learn the Italian names of the utensils. Half joking, one of students launched the idea of coming to cook there to prepare a dinner, instead of the usual final oral project. Everyone was immediately in favor of such an unusual exam.

The dean and the other Italian professor showed great support for our project. We divided the tasks. Someone created a Facebook page where we could all communicate our ideas, recipes and menu; someone else offered to prepare the invitation; another would prepare the menu. Even when faced with obstacles like a very small budget, the students did not allow me to drop the project. At all costs they wanted to go ahead. When the day finally came, there they were in perfect uniform with an introduction for the special guests — naturally, all in Italian!

The harmony with which they worked together in the kitchen was incredible, even though this group had never done so before. At dinnertime each student shared something about themselves, together with their recipes, praising the team more than themselves. Some Italian music and songs, played by a German, an American and a Filipino, concluded the evening.

And the Italian, you may ask? “I almost did not realize I was speaking in Italian, until my teacher pointed it out to me. I believe that every class should have this experience,” shared one of the students. Another wrote, “I realize that after the project a wall has crumbled. Now I feel more secure about going to Italy, because I know that I can speak.” It was a truly reciprocal experience: “Personally I was touched to see the guests set up the dining room, share their stories and play music for us, as much as we worked at making a great tasting meal.”

I realized that together we had cooked more than a delicious dinner. With passion, love, joy and generosity we had transformed many ingredients into a single dish of friendship, which nourished all of us. For dessert two of the students had prepared a tiramisu from scratch, and on top they decorated it with a heart. That was it — we had become one heart!

Jackie DeGrandpre and Christa LiTrenta created the tiramisu recipe we want to share with you. They write about it: “The recipe isn’t too difficult to reproduce but it requires just the right amount of love and care to make it incredibly delicious! We were so delighted that everyone at Mariapolis Luminosa enjoyed our tiramisu. We hope that everyone you decide to make this recipe for enjoys it just as much!”

By Maria Luce Ronconi

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