First Course: Speaking the Language of Food

What happens when you take one big slice of curriculum, add a teaspoonful of experiential learning, a dollop of foreign culture, and serve it online? 

A Grade 10 language class at St. Michael's College School (SMCS) recently found out.

"I was pretty excited because none of my teachers had ever had anything like it, and I've never seen anything like it," says student Luke Montemurro of the linguistic-culinary mash.

"When I heard about my class connecting with an Italian chef in Rome, I was extremely excited," adds classmate Michael D'Amico. "I was excited about the fact that we would be able to learn and interact with a chef who is all the way across the world from us." 

Gr. 10 SMCS students practicing Italian language skills during a cooking demonstration

A Grade 10 Italian class at St. Michael's College School takes part in a cross-country experiential learning session.

For Irma Fiacco, French and Italian teacher at SMCS, it was a fitting way for her students to sample new language skills. 

"My intention was to create a learning experience for all my students that started with the knowledge of basic food vocabulary and the main grammar and syntax rules to arrive at a culinary experience that took into account their Canadian cultural heritage and at the same time exposed them directly to contemporary Italian cuisine," says Fiacco, who is teaching Italian for the first time at SMCS, now in her second year at the school.

"When it comes to the Italian language and culture, I find that there is particular interest in everything related to the culinary tradition of the so-called ‘Bel Paese’ [beautiful country] Italy," adds Fiacco. "To the cooking theme, I thought of combining an aspect much loved and appreciated by all my students: Italian music!"

And so, the ‘Musica in Cucina’ student assignment was born.

Chef Frederico demonstrates how to make tiramisu to Gr. 10 SMCS students in Italian class

A professional chef conducts a cooking demonstration for a Grade 10 Italian class from his native Rome.

As part of the preparation phase, students were treated to a live step-by-step cooking demonstration by professional chef Federico Giuliani, from Rome. He took the students through his rendition of tiramisu, an Italian, coffee-flavoured dessert.

"I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer while visiting one of the most popular restaurants of Lombard regional cuisine in the city of Bergamo, just outside Milan," continues Fiacco. "Chef Federico was immediately very enthusiastic about making this connection from his hometown." 

The novel linguistic-culinary exchange was well-received.

"I learned how to add to what I already know about Italian and apply it in more complex ways," says Luca Li Trenta, who is taking an Italian course for the first time. "The most challenging thing about learning Italian is the verbs and the writing component." 

"What I enjoy most about learning Italian is that it helps me to speak with my family and understand my heritage/culture," he says. 

Chef Frederico demonstrates how to make tiramisu to Gr. 10 SMCS students in Italian class

The cooking demonstration was organized to help students become more familiar with the Italian language, in a different setting.

"From this class, the main thing I learned was how to cook tiramisu," adds D'Amico, who speaks three languages, including Italian. "I enjoy taking another language because it is simply fun! Knowing multiple languages can help you have a wide choice of occupations as well," he says.

And for the teacher who organized the exchange? "The results were excellent! The boys appreciated the chance to live this authentic experience with the presentation of a young chef who made himself available with his professionalism and kindness in answering all our questions and in giving us an insight into the reality of Italian contemporary cuisine. All this was made in Italian!"

Tiramisu made by Chef Frederico for Gr. 10 SMCS students to practice their Italian.

As part of their 'Musica in Cucina' project in Italian class, students were shown how to make a tiramisu dessert from a professional chef.

As they work on their current Musica in Cucina projects, the students' wheels continue to turn on a future experiential learning fare to feed their linguistic appetites.

"I would love to see another cooking session as this was very entertaining, or maybe an Italian artist to give us a little background information on Italian art," says Montemurro.

"Maybe watching Italian movies or watching Italian theatre," adds Li Trenta. "Also maybe to meet more people from Italy whether a sports player or an actor etc."

More deep learning to come.