LIFE AND INSPIRATION
Kul IN: What motivated you to embark on your culinary journey?
– I was 11 when I knew my professional path would include gastronomy. I was always thinking about food, watching culinary shows, reading culinary books. That’s how I discovered ALMA – I saw an article talking about ALMA in a magazine and said to my mom that I wanted to study there when I grew up. However, I never attended a culinary high school, and went to a gymnasium instead, so my culinary journey was put on hold for a while.
Kul IN: What inspires you the most about the food?
– Tradition and seasons inspire me. I love all four seasons, I love nature. When I wake up in November I dream of autumn vegetables, and when I wake up in July I want a pepper. My grandma used to go out in the garden and pick vegetables in the morning. I couldn’t ask for a tomato in December or she would get very mad at me. So seasons and my grandma, i.e. tradition are my culinary inspiration. I know it’s a cliché but if you love food you need to respect its life journey.
Kul IN: What are your other hobbies and passions?
– That’s a long list! I am a solo traveler and I am proud of it. I usually say that I am a traveler even before I say that I’m a cook. Traveling keeps me alive. I shut the door of my apartment and I just go, I don’t even need to know where. Airports are my home, I feel the happiest there. I traveled around Europe, America, Brazil, Mexico, Asia, Africa, China etc. I also play the piano, I started when I was 7 years old and I plan to get back to more seriously it this year. I also sing and paint. I read a lot, a book every three days. I do social media marketing and document my life on Instagram which is a great way to meet new people.
NEVER GIVE UP
Kul IN: Has your culinary journey make you evolve as a person in some way, how has it changed you?
– I’m not sure I am qualified to judge my own journey objectively. Usually, I am in the category of people who excel at the things they do, otherwise they wouldn’t have started in the first place. In ALMA I wasn’t one of those people. I studied and did well on tests that focused on theory but I struggled in practicums and failed my practical exams. I was always by myself, and other students didn’t want to hang out with me, I just didn’t fit in with the rest of the students. Regardless, there were still people who believed in me, one chef in particular took care of me. Having seen that someone believed in me, I realized I had to believe in myself as well, so I embraced that thought and now I am here. I used to be very focused on goals and I got lost on my journey, so right now I just go day by day. I don’t have a specific goal and I feel comfortable, I’m doing my best on every small, tedious thing I do and that will help me determine and realize my future goals. If I could give my younger self one advice, I would just say “smile more”.
Kul IN: How did the proposal to stay in ALMA come about?
– I interned at a restaurant alongside the chef Paolo Lopriore, who was changing the way of eating and serving food in the world at the time. Working right next to a culinary genius of his magnitude is not easy. Everyone believed in me but it was too much, I was under a lot of pressure. I realized that working next to that kind of chef, who was always focused on something, was making me very tired. I wanted to succeed, to prove myself to everyone and fulfill their expectations but it was too much for me at the time. This pressure caused me to start hating kitchen – I was young and impulsive. When you are that young and fail at something, you immediately jump to conclusions and give up altogether. That’s what I did at the time, I left the restaurant, went back home and felt depressed for the following five months. I refused to leave the house and I felt defeated. Then, one day when I said to my mom that although I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living anymore, I wanted to finish ALMA because she had sacrificed so much for this dream of mine, and I wanted to graduate out of respect for her and my professors at ALMA, who believed in me despite everything. Therefore, I went back to ALMA, interned at a different restaurant, still fine dining but more relaxed, so I had time to indulge my other passion, exploring new places and traveling. As our final exams were approaching, I still didn’t fully believe in myself nor thought that I would make a good chef. To my surprise, chefs were delighted with my dishes and said to me “we don’t need to know your name or your story, we just want to know if you had fun because we loved the dishes you made”. They saw in me what I couldn’t and said I possessed a profound understanding, had respect for the food I was making, and asked me to stay at ALMA. My career is only just beginning. It is impossible to choose the highlight because it most likely hasn’t happened yet. However, the period around my final exam stands out. Chef Lopriore surprised me at ALMA although I had not seen him in 6 months. He hugged me and said he knew I did a good job on my final exam the day before. That was very reassuring because I had been struggling so much during the previous months. There are people who believe in us even if we don’t know it. I guess this has been the highlight so far, in 10 years, I might tell you something more exciting e.g. that I won 3 Michelin stars. Right now, I work and assist most of the chefs at ALMA. I always learn something new from them. We have learned to work in unison by now and function as a team. However, there is always going to be challenges when you are working so close with another person. You have to be understanding, empathetic, and compassionate.
ALMA IS LIKE A FAIRYTALE
Kul IN: Could you describe your day at ALMA?
– I always make it my mission to wake up with a smile even if I know it’s going to be a challenging day. After I wake up, I get ready and go to work where I prepare everything for class so our students can feel prepared and ready when they are in class. I always take time to talk to students because I want them to feel safe at ALMA. I have a meeting with chefs and we usually go for a coffee, which is my favorite thing. Then the students arrive, we do a demo of all dishes we are doing that day and they make the dishes themselves. The chef in charge sits most of the time, walks around a little but doesn’t want to be too close because at ALMA they want students to feel and experience the pressure and responsibility of having to work independently. Chefs at ALMA are very strict, and I am the mediator in between because I am neither a chef nor one of the students, so I make sure to provide the necessary balance. I assist students when they need me and most of them say my journey of struggle and success inspires them. I always stay with the students after class because I want them to understand that every aspect of the job has a deeper meaning, that working in a team is crucial when you work in a professional kitchen. I want to show them that we are all playing for the same team. I am not above them but stand beside them. So, together, we clean up, check the room and go home.
Kul IN: What is the best thing about working in education?
– Being around thousands of students from all over the world is the best thing. Learning about their cultures and teaching them about ours makes me feel like I’m always traveling, and that is very important for me. I learn from my students every day. The whole atmosphere in ALMA is hypnotizing – you are locked inside this huge fairytale castle for more than 8 hours a day. If there were a tsunami going on you wouldn’t notice because kitchen and food is your life. I love the atmosphere, it is more than education. The people you meet there and their stories permeate the premises and give ALMA its unique charm.
Kul IN: What makes a good chef?
– Not just experience or skills but the love they put into everything they do. Great chefs have suffered a lot and have strong personalities. Despite the struggles they have experienced, they are showing us how much they love what they do. Therefore, that love for gastronomy and culinary arts is the key ingredient. Cooking is not about business it is about making people happy and fulfilled through your craft. Since I don’t work in a restaurant, I don’t get to hone my skills, so I am lucky to be able to work with him (Di Turi). Chef Di Turi has a lot of experience and is sharing it with me every day in little drops. However, I see my colleagues, some even younger than me, their whole life is focused on the culinary arts because they work at a restaurant. That restaurant dynamic would help me a lot and I might need to go back to it because it would make me a complete chef, the restaurant experience is something a chef needs. ALMA is a dream, a fairytale but it is completely different from working at a restaurant.
KUL IN INSPIRES
Kul IN: What is your impression of Kul IN?
– Unexpected, I wasn’t familiar with the surrounding area at all but when I saw the woods I was truly intrigued. The nature around here opens your mind and it must be amazing for the students to work in that environment. At first, I was comparing you to us but I think that was a foolish thing to do. You are doing a great job, and your students are very talented. The feeling I had the whole time is that all of you are working hard to make us feel welcome so that everyone can have a good time, and we feel honored to be here, so, thank you.
You can follow Federica on her Instagram profile https://www.instagram.com/federicamoore/.