As a culinary assistant at the Fargo Olive Garden, Rhonda Weigel of Horace has always been happy to go the extra mile to provide her guests with a genuine Italian dining experience. Recently, however, Weigel was willing to go the extra 4,000 miles, traveling to Italy to learn about Italian culture and cuisine to bring back to her team and guests. Experiencing Italian culture firsthand, Weigel and 12 fellow culinary assistants spent a week dining on traditional food, visiting local wineries and training at Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany.
"Seeing the enthusiasm Italians have for food, at the markets, the vineyards and in the kitchen, was amazing. This experience traveling through Italy, tasting fresh ingredients and cooking authentic meals has reinvigorated my love for Italian cuisine. I'm excited to bring that spirit back to our guests," Weigel said.
Each year, Olive Garden selects approximately 100 managers and culinary assistants to travel to Italy for a chance to enhance their culinary skills. This experience is designed to bring the genuine Italian dining experience alive for managers and culinary leaders, and upon their return, to their restaurant teams and guests. At Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany, Weigel worked under the direction of Olive Garden's executive chefs, learning the time-honored traditions of Italian cooking by refining their skills in ingredient selection, the secret to layering sauces, perfecting al dente pasta and creating the most flavorful meals.
The group also spent time visiting Olive Garden's Riserva di Fizzano restaurant and the Rocca delle Macie winery, Olive Garden's partner and one of Italy's leading producers of Tuscan wines. There, in the scenic rolling hills of Castellina in Chianti, Italy, the class learned about the history and tradition of Italian winemaking, learning firsthand of the important role wine plays in the Italian meal.
"The passion that Italians have for food, wine and the entire dining experience defines how they live life...with enthusiasm and generosity," Weigel said. "I can't wait to share the same care and warmth the people of Italy bring to every meal with my team and our guests."
No trip to Italy could be complete without time spent exploring its beautiful cities. The group enjoyed sightseeing throughout Rome, Florence and Tuscany, experiencing the graciousness of the people and taking in all the country's beauty.
Olive Garden culinary assistants were chosen to train in Italy by their director of operations and senior vice president. To date, more than 600 managers and culinary assistants have trained at Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany and enjoyed weeklong immersions in Italian food, wine and culture.
Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 643 restaurants, more than 80,000 employees and $2.8 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE:DRI), the world's largest casual dining company in sales and market share. For more information, visit Olive Garden's Web site at www.olivegarden.com.