Alexa Zerkow embarked on a eight week journey to the heart of Tuscany, bella Siena, to study the vast history and culture of food in Italy as well as the language, and was determined to integrate herself into the Italian way of being and eating. She eagerly participated in hands-on cooking classes where she learned to create pure Tuscan-style cuisine that included pici, a traditional Sienese pasta, simple yet wonderfully-delicious bruschetta;, home-made pizza topped with fresh basil and tomatoes plucked moments before from the chef’s orto, (vegetable garden), mere steps away from the kitchen; and pappa al pomodoro, a scrumptious soup meant to make use of day old bread, and various other dishes. These recipes embodied the food culture of Italy in which simplicity is key, quality triumphs over quantity, local and fresh is best, and waste-not, want-not function as core components of all aspects of Italian food production. Alexa ventured exuberantly on field studies such as visits to gelato-laboratories, bakeries and vineyards, orchestrated by both the course program and stemming from her own burning curiosity. It was clear that Italy brimmed over with people devoted to making wholesome artisanal cuisine and Alexa was insistent to pinpoint the origin of such passion. On the weekends, she traveled throughout Italy by way of her taste buds determined to learn about each region’s specialties. She journeyed down south to Naples, the birthplace of modern pizza to indulge in a government-certified Neapolitan margherita pie, up north to Perugia to explore the famous chocolate factory, hiked the coast of Cinque Terre to ultimately savor their fresh-caught seafood, and traveled to numerous large cities and small towns in between. In addition, Alexa, voracious for a more intimate connection to Siena, volunteered at the local mensa, or “soup kitchen,” twice a week and helped serve lunch to the hungry. There she sharpened her language skills and gained a deeper understanding of the social aspects of food, a typical Italian meal, and good ol’ Italian hospitality. Alexa was also lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s home in the countryside for a weekend and explored food at its origin through cooking predominantly with ingredients gathered from the family’s orto.
CEE Title: The Family Meal
For her CEE, Alexa created the Slow Food Temple, which was the vehicle for her CEE, The Family Meal. Through her organization, she coordinated a symposium showing various perspectives on family meals with three different speakers, emphasizing the importance of meaningful meals. With the help of a local food truck owner, attendees were able to sample Tunisian couscous, Swedish berry salad and seasonal cookies from a campus food truck. As this event was the debut of a new student group, this initiative is sustainable in nature and will positively impact students at her university for years to come.