What Actually Goes On at Olive Garden’s ‘Culinary Institute’ in Tuscany?

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An Olive Garden restaurant in Times Square, New York, U.S.

It’s not a good week to be Olive Garden. First, a parent spoke out about her child accidentally being served sangria. Now, the Internet is buzzing about the restaurant’s famed Tuscan cooking school.

Olive Garden, the Italian food chain, claims to have a Culinary Institute of Tuscany, located in a charming 11th century hamlet of Riserva di Fizzano, in the world-class foodie area of Chianti, Tuscany.

An anonymous poster on Reddit claims that she has been a manager for the popular Italian restaurant chain, and that the ”cooking school'” where chefs allegedly go to learn the secrets of of mastering Italian food isn’t quite as advertised.

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She writes that Olive Garden does not own the place and that, when she went there in 2007, they just booked the whole rustic hotel for the Olive Garden management and chefs. The visitors “could use the restaurant (closed to the public-again off season) as a classroom for maybe an hour here or there and talk about spices or fresh produce for a minute before going sightseeing all day,” she wrote.  “The only time we saw the ‘chef” was when she made a bolognese sauce while taking pictures with each of us to send to our local newspapers.”

NewsFeed took the trouble to fact check the claims. Yes, there is a a beautifully restored rustic farmhouse — a common occurrence in a region that lives off high end gourmet tourism — located in an 11th century hamlet. There’s a restaurant, but there’s no school, per se.

A spokesperson for the hotel confirmed that there’s an agreement in place between them and Olive Garden. Olive Garden sends about a dozen people each week in the off-season between November and March. Their chef spends some time with them in the kitchen, but there’s no school and the restaurant does not own anything there. The house and the restaurant belong, in fact, to a local wine label.

Perhaps the institute isn’t an intense cooking academy. But even Olive Garden’s web site points out that the managers who travel to the institute take time to visit a winery and a fresh food market, as well as partake in some delicious Italian eats. And a free trip to Italy is certainly a great incentive program for Olive Garden managers, who we’re sure pick up some tips on authentic Italian ambiance while they relax in Italy.

NewsFeed can’t really take one side or another, but honestly: If you thought unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks was authentic Italian cuisine, then maybe it’s time to step out of your culinary comfort zone. (Though those breadsticks are delicious.) (Via Slashfood)

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