Trip to Italy inspires students, family, and community


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Culinary arts students hug each other after the announcement at the Food and Wine Event in the Campus Center Plaza of the seven students going to Italy. Every summer culinary arts students travel abroad to learn about Italian cuisine.

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

Ten eager Contra Costa College culinary arts students will depart on June 4 for Rome Fiumicino Airport as they begin their travels to the coastal town of Otranto, Italy for a two-week educational journey of food and culture.

Providing a hands-on approach to the culinary experience, the excursion will encompass daily cooking lessons steeped in traditional recipes and Mediterranean flair.

The 15 days of lessons will integrate the nutrient benefits of local products, sustainability and the environment with the history of Italian cuisine.

“I’ve always had a dream of going to Italy but I never thought I’d go, especially going there to learn something that I love to do,” culinary arts major Sergio Gutierrez said. “We are going to two different schools for two weeks to learn from chefs over there, I know they have their own way of doing things.”

The entire trip, which provides no financial burden on students aside from souvenir or fun money, is being fully funded by proceeds raised by the culinary arts department’s annual Food and Wine Event.

“When Chef (Nader Sharkes) started the program he wanted a life changing experience for different students. Personally, for me it means doing something out of the norm,” Gutierrez said.

Following a tentative schedule that functions like a weekly school schedule, with Saturday and Sunday devoted to free time, exclusive sightseeing of neighboring towns such as Lecce and Vico Equense will add depth to the local vibe.

“Our goal is not just to hone their skills and give them new knowledge, but for them to come back and encourage their families or members of their community to pursue college education,” Sharkes said. “The work ethic and the skills that can be learned through this scholarship (Italy trip) is beneficial for the community it serves.”

Sharkes, who will also accompany the group as its official guide, said it has become traditional to send students to different countries to absorb all facets of cuisine.

“It’s a phenomenal because some of these students never have been outside of the Bay Area,” Sharkes said. “Their culinary skills will be improved, which they can apply to jobs, but they gain knowledge of cultures that they never have been introduced to before.”

In the past, study abroad trips included China and France, but because of the connection and relationship built over the past six years with Professional State Institute Services for Food and Wine and Hospitality in Otranto, it became easier to provide a streamlined program.

“I found that students can get real hands-on skills in Italy,” Sharkes said. “But also, living in California, we are trying to introduce the Mediterranean cuisine because that is what California is about — the freshness — and that’s what Italian cuisine is about too.”

Sharkes said, “Adding all the ingredients into the method of cooking it does really help the students to get a little perspective on healthy cooking, healthy menu and healthy habits.”

Kristine Sanic, who is in her second semester as a culinary arts major, said she’s heard from previous students that it’s an incredible experience of learning how to cook Italian from an Italian chef.

“To be chosen out of the 20 something people who applied, it means a lot. It means an awful lot,” Sanic said. “Especially for me because I’m retired. So I’m just doing this to be a better cook at home and from what I understand it’s so much different from the Italian food we prepare here.”

Also on the itinerary is a visit to a pasta and olive oil factory, the opportunity to see the Colosseum in Rome and a tour of the Vatican Museum.

“Getting that authentic flavor of being in a different country, I’m hoping to represent not only the college and the program very well, but also the city of San Pablo.”

Sanic, with a playful chuckle, said she is most looking forward to bringing back some olive oil and wine.

The culinary study abroad program, which started 11 years ago, uses an application process to choose which students are awarded the trip.

Those participating must have been, or currently be, enrolled in Culinary 120, 127, 130, 131, 230, 231, 241A or 241B; be an active participant in the 2018 Food and Wine Event, and have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Also, students were required to submit a 500-750 word typed essay detailing their qualities, talents and character strengths that set them apart from the other potential candidates.

Culinary arts major Michelle Bynun said, after speaking to friends who went to Italy last year, that she will only be packing basic things she needs.

“I’m just bringing a few pieces of make-up and shoes. I’m not bringing a curling iron, or anything like that.”

Bynun said she is thankful and happy to be able to experience a new culture in Italy.

“I’m really looking forward to learning different techniques of cooking and trying different foods other than the foods we have here in the U.S.,” she said. “I’m more into baking, so I would like to learn how to make gelato.”