In-Depth 2022 Introduction

What is In-Depth?

The In-Depth project is the TALONS program’s final, large component of the school year. It is a 5-month long project in Leadership that spans from, January to May. In the project, we get to go in-depth on any topic we choose. The end goal is to have learnt a great deal in a field of activity, one which is usually not available in a school setting.  

To assist us in achieving that goal, we are tasked with finding a mentor to help us on our journey. The mentor should be an expert so that they have guaranteed experience and knowledge in our chosen field. 

What is my chosen field?

My chosen field for In-Depth this year will be cooking. Specifically, I will be focusing on cooking Italian Cuisine for In-Depth this year.

What is my reasoning for choosing this field?

I want to go In-Depth on cookin Italian cuisine because of many factors. First, Italian cuisine has many different dishes varying in difficulty. This can help me progress through cooking the cuisine as I can slowly build up from easier dishes to harder dishes over time to build my culinary skills. Italian cuisine is also very delicious, and I wish to be proficient while cooking it so that I can share what I’ve learned with those close to me.

By choosing this field, I also wish to improve on my basic kitchen skills because your fundamental skills are what you use the most in the kitchen. My current technical kitchen skills, particularly knife skills, are only decent at best. By improving on these basic kitchen skills, I can be safer in the kitchen and have fewer accidents while cooking. I can also increase the efficiency at which I cook by improving my technical skills, as by becoming more proficient at basic kitchen skills such as knife work, I can overall speed up the time it takes for me to cook a dish.

What is my goal?

My end goal for the project is:

  • To become proficient in cooking Italian cuisine.
  • To have gained a basic knowledge of the history of Italian cuisine, its most well-known components, and why it has become so popular in America and Canada.
  • To improve my technical skills in the kitchen to an intermediate level.
  • To create a delicious 3-course meal that does show my learning about cooking Italian cuisine as my “final project” for In-Depth this year.

How will I achieve my goal?

In hopes of being able to reach these goals by the end of May, I’ve created a timeline of what I’ll be doing for the 5-month period so I can make sure I have each goal finished by then. 

I will also be asking my mentor to assess my progress every other week by giving me a task to complete, such as dicing an onion to demonstrate my knife skills, or have me make fresh egg pasta and send them pictures of it to demonstrate my progress in pasta-making.

My timeline: 

Find a mentor, write an introductory in-depth post going over my project, and discuss my research regarding learning the history of Italian cuisine, its most well-known components, and why it has become so popular in America and Canada.January 28th
Begin learning Italian Cuisine and practicing my technical skills in the kitchenJanuary 29th.
I start off my first “section” of Italian cuisine by learning about pasta. I will practice and make pasta for the next 2 weeks as Pasta is a very large topic that I have a large amount of area to improve in. I could also learn how to make gnocchi during this section. During this time, I will also focus on my hand-kneading techniques as I will be kneading pasta dough quite a lot. IJanuary 30th – February 12th
Ask my mentor to begin assigning me to progress checks every other week (like the ones I described above in this section).The second week of February to the end of May
I will learn how to make sauces for my second “section” of Italian cuisine to pair off with the previous section about pasta.  This section will last a week. I will practice making different types of sauces for the next week. Heat control will be the technical skill I will be focusing on during this section of the project.February 13th – February 19th
I will learn how to make Mozarella-focused dishes for my third “section” of Italian cuisine for the next week. I will practice cutting as my technical skill for this section of the project.February 20th – February 26th.
I will learn how to make risotto for the next section of Italian cuisine. I will learn about risottos for 2 weeks as there are many different types of risottos for me to learn and try to make. The technical skill I will be learning for this section will be once again knife work as I will be cutting a lot of ingredients to make risotto. This will be the last week I will focus on improving a technical skill.February 27th – March 12th
I will learn how to make Italian soups for this next section of the project. I will spend a week on this topic.March 13th – March 19th
I will learn how to make lasagna for the next section of the project. I will need to spend 2 weeks on this topic as lasagna is very complicated due to its many layers and ingredients.March 20th – April 2nd
For the next section of the project, I will learn about Italian desserts. I will spend 2 weeks on this project so I can cover a majority of the well-known Italian desserts such as panna cotta and tiramisu.April 3rd – April 16th
For the next section of the project, I will focus on pasta once again for another week. This is since there are simply just so many kinds of pasta. For this week, I will most likely be focusing specifically on ravioli, however.April 17th – April 23rd
For the next section of the project, I will focus on making authentic Italian pizza for the final week.April 24th – 30th.
I will plan out my 3-course meal with all that I’ve learned in the past few months.May 1st – May 20th
I will prepare and cook my 3-course meal, serving it to my family.May 21st – 22nd.
Post a final in-depth blog post regarding my learnings.May 31st

What do I already know?

I am already quite decent at cooking, as I am able to help my parents cook in the kitchen from time to time and sometimes make my own dish that we all eat together. I have the basic skills for the culinary arts, but they are not anything noteworthy. I can handle myself in the kitchen, though, and I am confident enough to where I am not very nervous while cooking.

A description of my mentor

A few days ago, I was able to find and get a mentor for this project. I got quite lucky once again this year, as my mentor is once again very qualified and experienced. They work as the head chef of a well-rated restaurant and has a very strong background in Italian cooking. I have previously conducted an interview with this chef back in October of last year for a different assignment where we had to research potential career paths in the future. In that interview, I found this chef to be very informative and knowledgeable when answering any questions I had. They were also very patient and supportive during the interview as well. This is why I am confident to say that they will make a fantastic mentor and that I will try and be just as great of a mentee for them as well.

A brief history of Italian cuisine

The beginnings of Italian cuisine go back all the way to ancient Rome. Ancient Rome by this point stretched across a vast area of the ancient world. This meant that a large amount of spices and ingredients from different areas were incorporated into Roman cuisine. Some of their major food items were staples of the typical Mediterranean diet at the time, such as cheeses, olive oil, wine, bread, vegetables, and legumes.

Pasta, one of Italy’s most famous food items, goes back all the way to the Etruscans who conquered Rome in 800 BC. Etruscan pasta consisted of a dough made of flour and water, rolled out and cut. Other noteworthy pastas of this time include the Greek’s makrios, and the Arab’s ittrya. The former being perhaps an ancestor of macaroni, and the latter an ancestor of fusilli.

In the middle ages, after the fall of Rome, the many different groups of peoples that conquered the Mediterranean region left their own respective touches on Italian cuisine during this time. For example, while Sicily was occupied by Arab Muslims, many different spices and fruits were introduced into the region. Innovative cooking techniques were also developed to preserve food for long sea voyages during this time, leading to the development of dried pasta. The popularity of fish, bread, cheese, egg, legumes, and fruit also rose during this time due to religion placing dietary restrictions on meat.

During the Italian Renaissance, where trade and commerce in Italy opened up greatly, food moved away from being isolated agricultural traditions and became sources of enjoyment and cultural exchange. Due to the amount of trade, many different spices and ingredients were introduced to Italian cuisine during this time as well. A noteworthy ingredient that was introduced was the tomato, which was brought over by the Spanish. Tomatoes quickly became a staple in Italian cuisine, as did others such as zucchini, peppers, squash, beans, corn, and chocolate.

After Italy unified in 1860, the distinct flavours of different regions of the peninsula became what is now known as Italian cuisine, as shown by Italy’s diverse array of ingredients and flavours in the present day. From there, Italian cuisine has been shared far and wide, taking on regional flavours in countries around the world and itself becoming a cultural influence.

Italian cuisine’s most well-known components

Listed down below are some of the most well-known and essential ingredients that creates the foundation of Italian Cuisine:

  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Balsamic Viniger
  • Tomatoes
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Italian Cheese (pecorino, mozarella, etc.)
  • Wine
  • Pasta
  • Pasta Sauces
  • Capers
  • Porcini Mushrooms

Why is Italian cuisine so popular in America and Canada?

The answer to this question is actually much simpler than I had thought. A major reason why Italian cuisine is not only popular in America and Canada, but a large majority of the world, is simply because of how much Italians travelled. Italians have been travellers for a very long time, and everywhere they travelled, their cuisine accompanied them. They brought their flavours and ingredients to every new land they set foot on and introduced many dishes and recipes to the people of the land they had travelled to. Another factor that makes Italian cuisine so popular is because of it’s quality, simplicity, affordability, variety, and taste. Pasta, for example, is a rather inexpensive food item that has quite a long shelf life, which is a factor that made it become so popular in the world. While the Italian cuisine you can find in Canada and America are often not truly “authentic-Italian” and more “American-Italian,” some food items that were created by American-Italian cuisine have also been brought across the world, such as American Pizza.

Thank you for reading! I hope you stick around during the length of this project to see my progress. Keep an eye out for my future In-Depth blog posts (which will be posted about every two weeks)