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Culinary tour of Italy leaves lasting memories for Nicolet student

 

Jan. 2, 2013
The sights, sounds – and especially the food – of Italy were center stage for a Nicolet College Culinary Arts student who went on an all-expense-paid trip to that country after winning a national cooking contest.

Italy TourAs one might expect, “It was a truly amazing and unforgettable experience,” said Stephanie Kaether, who won the grand prize in Johnsonville’s Italian Inspiration culinary contest.

Her dish, A Match Made in Heaven Manicotti, was selected as the best of the hundreds of recipes submitted from across the country.

The grand tour of Italy had her and her long-time boyfriend Marc Munn visiting such iconic places and cities as Venice, Naples, Pompeii, the Isle of Capri, and the small town of Carunchio, located in the picturesque Abruzzo region.

All the while Kaether was sampling a wide variety of culinary creations along the way and learning about different cooking techniques and foods from a professional chef during the guided portion of the trip.

“Each region has its own specialties, especially when it comes to pasta,” she said. “Along with different pasta dishes, we learned how to make a variety of salads, sauces, dressings, desserts and, of course, pizza. What was really interesting was the emphasis they place on using only the freshest ingredients and keeping many of the dishes quite simple. The flavors were really amazing and the passion they have for food was inspiring.”

Another interesting aspect was the dining experience itself. Long and relaxed meals are the norm. Customers often spend hours at a table or an entire evening in the case of dinner, which typically begins at about 8 p.m.

One especially memorable meal took place in Pompeii. Well before her trip Kaether researched restaurants in that city and came across one of particular interest. She sent an email months in advance of her arrival requesting a reservation and telling the owner her story about how she was able to take such a trip.

The response was rather non-committal: show up and we’ll see what we can do. But when they arrived at the restaurant, “we were practically dragged in off the street,” Kaether explained. “The owner greeted me by name and sat us at this wonderful table beneath a ceiling made of real grapes and grape vines. I asked him to bring us an appetizer he thought we might enjoy and shortly thereafter the plates started coming! We ended up with the entire surface of a four-person table totally covered with various specialties.”

During the evening they talked at length with the owner, sharing stories and learning about the Italian way of life. “It was a very enjoyable evening and the food was absolutely delicious,” said Kaether, who is now back in classes and finishing up her associate degree in Culinary Arts at Nicolet.

Another interesting experience came in Vasta San Salvo when they dined in a very small, four-table restaurant right along the Adriatic Sea. “They would literally pull these giant nets up from the sea right in front of you and then prepare the seafood they caught.” That evening they dined on fresh clams, scampi, and mussels.

As for other recipe contests, Kaether still enters them regularly, having earned an honorable mention in one and waiting on the results from another. “I’m always putting together new recipes.”

As for the future, her dream is to own and operate a restaurant on a lake in the area. “I have a special fondness for the Rhinelander area and would love to support and serve the local people here,” she said.