Thursday, October 8, 2009

Aromas of herbs and spices

On this penultimiate day in Florence, I am on the piazza of Hotel Monna Lisa, enjoying a second pot of coffee and the cool morning, sure it will be in the high 70's later. This week at Cordon Bleu has been like total emulsion/immersion in Italian. Chefs Gianna and Christina use 99.9% Italian and Gabriella uses 95% when she occassionally drops in to translate. Most of the students are enrolled in 2-4 month courses, training to be professional chefs. In nearly every way I am out of my comfort zone; other than I do know what a stove is. I thought I knew how to use a whisk, but was quickly corrected. It is really loads of fun and I am learning much by observation, osmosis and from a couple of American students who answer my questions during the occasional breaks.

For the gentle "foodie" readers I will treat you with our recent learnings. Day 1, Techniques, we made Spinach/Swiss chard piel, Ossibuchi, Risotto ala Milanese, and Panna Cotta. Day 2, Pastry, was Torta Mimosa, Pasta Genovese, Zuccotto Toscano and Chocolate Wine Cake. Yesterday was all about sauces: Maionese, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Bernaise, Bordolese, Aeloli, all with variations. We finished up with mustard infused apple sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. At the very conclusion about 30 different fresh herbs were distributed to the 12 of us to touch, taste and smell while Gianna described their uses.

Perhaps it was only coincidental that my morning study included "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2Cor 2:14-15)

As a sauce reached its proper stage of reduction, Gianna would draw us close to sniff how it should be--even before tasting. it intriques me what "fragrance" we, as Christians, infuse the world. Somehow I believe it is the aroma of peace/shalom/well being rather than anger, hunger, war; it is empathy, forgiveness, generosity and concern the needy, rather than misunderstanding, intolerance, greed and getting even.

As part of my Italian time I have read about St. Francis and the Franciscan vocation. Susan Pitchford, a 3rd Order Franciscan writes, "We'll know we've discovered our proper job when we find that task to which we cannot bear to give anything short of our best. When no sacrifice is too great, no detail to trivial, and we're prepared to lavish the last of our resources on it, then we've found our vocation.

I see this sense of vocation in the folks training to be chefs as they sacrifice to much to participate in this course. As one whose vocation is to be the aroma of Christ, I am thinking about the sacrifices, details and generous spirit that this calls forth. I join in this prayer attributed to St. Francis in The Absorbeat, "May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart from all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, who were so good as to die for love of my love. Amen."

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