Olive Garden cooking school in Tuscany?

Updated 02/2014

Olive Garden is one of those places that really sets my blood to boil. Every time I hear the word ‘Hospitaliano’ I begin to cringe and twitch. When I hear them say ‘When you’re here, you’re family’, I can’t help but visualize the corporate offices of a chain with nearly 700 cookie-cutter restaurants. I’d just love to show up there one day waving my hands saying ‘Ciao!!! It’s cousin Michael’. I wonder what kind of Hospitaliano I will receive when I help myself (as family would) in their executive lunchroom at the corporate HQ. Better yet, after you leave an Olive Garden, how many people that work there know your name, let alone consider you family? Do we actually buy into this stuff?

I’ve Got Your Hospitaliano Right Here

OK, marketing marketing marketing. But now their commercials focus on their ‘Culinary Institute’ in Tuscany? They imply that their chefs all go there to learn how to make true Italian food with the freshest of ingredients. They learn from a local grandmother, then come back to their local Olive Garden and you get the benefit of their new-found talents. Yeah, Right! This is just over the top. Is Olive Garden actually trying to imply now that they serve authentic Italian food? Do they really want us to believe that it is the real thing? Fresh? We are talking about a Boil-a-meal-in-a-bag-then-serve chain here, people. Their recipes are at best ‘Italian Inspired’, but by no means Italian. It would be like having someone serve you a sausage and call it a hot dog.

Their latest commercial talked about how their chefs came back from Italy with their new recipe, ‘Chicken Crostina’ . Ummm… sorry folks, no such thing, and I can most certainly guarantee that the grandmother shown teaching the chefs in the commercial wouldn’t put an Olive Garden Chicken Crostina in her mouth to save her life, let alone teach anyone to make it.

A Dose of Reality

So what is this ‘Cooking Institute’ all about? I did a little research, and I put some two and two together. It appears that someone in corporate found an independent cooking school in Tuscany and made a deal with them. Olive Garden ranks all of their chefs and managers (as any corporation would), and the top 100 win a one-week trip to Italy the following year. It appears that they send 10 of their people at a time. It sounds like a great performance perk, and they are certainly getting a ton of marketing mileage out of it. However, I can pretty much guarantee that they come home and look at the food they make at their local Olive Garden and simply shake their heads, having finally experienced the real thing. In any case, they then go back to their ‘line chef’ system and feed you the same junk they always have. Sigh.

Are You Looking for Something AUTHENTIC?

Some have asked why my opinion is so strong on this subject.  Simply put, I own a cooking school in Italy that actually DOES create a family experience.  We actually DO teach authentic home-style Tuscan cooking, and our vacations are the stuff of dreams.  So since you probably arrived here while searching Google for information about Olive Garden’s cooking school, please do me one little favor:  Have a look at our website and check out what we are all about.  If you are really considering a cooking vacation in Italy, I think what we have will be EXACTLY what you are dreaming of.

Win a Trip to the Culinary Institute?

Hey, it’s a great promotion!  However, if you are hoping to learn the secrets of Chicken-Gnocchi-Alfrefo Soup or Deep Fried Lasagna Bites, it just isn’t going to happen.  I suspect that you will get a more authentic experience, and by the time you come home to Olive Garden, you will be squarely in my camp.

Update 2014:

According to their website, Olive Garden partnered with the Rocca delle Macie Winery to establish the “Culinary Institute of Tuscany”.  As mentioned earlier, this not actually something that Olive Garden runs, nor is it a place they send their “chefs” to learn.  But rather an incentive for Olive Garden employees.  Nothing like what you see in the video:

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  • orjyorjy

    Author Reply

    Sad and offensive. I’m Irish-American by birth but even I am offended by the racist misrepresentation of Italian culture and cuisine by the Olive Garden. True Italian food is a thing of beauty. Simplicity and elegance. A real Italian chef can take the same four ingredients and rock your world for a lifetime, Can take a tomato from fresh to asciutto, garlic from raw to roasted. Pure heaven. Olive Garden is a big McDonald’s.

    • This is sad simply because this comment tells me you’ve never ever ate in Italy or anywhere in Europe for that matter. No Italian dish in America is authentic Italy because if you know anything about Italy cuisine then the last thing you would call it is elegant. Italian could care less what you think about the plate they give you. There food is normally from the freezer and many cases spoiled and out dated. I’ve live in Italy for years and have never heard anyone tell the lie you’ve just told.

  • You know it’s not really Italian because there will never be a mob hit at Olive Garden.

    Go to Italy. You will never go to olive garden again!

    • Bottom line I’ve lived in Italy like tooo long and Olive Garden’s food gets peoples hopes up about Italy cuisine. It not good at all out here.

  • WBirdWBird

    Author Reply

    After being to Italy and eating some of the most wonderful food I have ever had I will never eat at an Olive Garden again.

  • Ugh! That poor Italian woman. She doesn’t even know what she’s promoting.. Bad food!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Love Thursday: April Showers Bring… =-.

  • tb33tb33

    Author Reply

    Get over yourselves. Yeah, Olive Garden isn’t as good as, and does not represent the variation in regional italian cuisine, but so what. It’s not the best, that’s for sure, but it’s not the worst either

    • We all have our opinions. Mine is this: Have you been to Buca di Beppo? They don’t represent themselves as an authentic Italian restaurant. Instead, they market themselves as a throwback to “Old New Your Italian”, and they do a pretty good job. Maggiano’s is similar. Oliv Garden goes way out of their way in their marketing to create the impression of authenticity… old world Italian… A true Tuscan experience. It is not. In fact, item for item, it is less so than the previous places I mentioned. They market Italian hospitality, family, recipes brought back from Tuscany, etc. All they deliver is a poor-quality chain restaurant experience. See the difference?

    • debbydebby

      Author Reply

      OG is actually disgusting, using never fresh and highly processed, MSG laden entrees. At best, loosely speaking they are indeed, Italian “inspired”. Never could you honestly call this place “not that bad”. Oh wait….. do you work there???

  • kJkJ

    Author Reply

    It amuses me. I appreciated the passion at the beginning of this article but by the time I reached the end I saw it for what it was…an advertisement for this person’s cooking school. Makes them no different than Olive Garden.

    • KJ, That fact that this is what we do is what qualifies me. It is like the way a true artisan would compare themselves to a large assembly line factory that markets its products as artisan products. One is true, one is not. By making the statement, is the artisan now a production line factory? Of course not. We are a small, family-run organization. Our entire staff is less than the wait staff of a single olive garden restaurant. We pride ourselves with passion on immersing our guests in the true culture, the true culinary experience, and real.. yes REAL and AUTHENTIC Italian cooking. As the owner of the company, I can tell you the nam of every guest we have ever had, when they came, what they look like, what their likes and dislikes are, etc. This is because we truly bring our guests into our intimate family. If you were to spend a week with us, you would fully understand that it is a truly unique and special experience. You would also completely understand why I so strongly feel that Olive Garden’s marketing dilutes one of the world’s greatest cultural traditions for the sake of a ‘feel good’ marketing strategy that has no basis in their own reality.

  • So they microwave everything in Tuscany?

  • I am visiting Italy for the first time in March, and have joked with friends about trying to find the “Olive Garden Culinary Institute” because of how ridiculously inauthentic Olive Garden is. I’m glad I came across this article,though, since the mention of the winery they use gives me a chance at finding the place to take a picture!

  • They actually do send their chefs to the Culinary School in Italy. as well as there General Managers. They’re there for 10 days.

  • I only get soup and salad at OG. Ever. lol

  • The sad part is the only person that has got anything right so far beside myself is Kellie. The fact of the matter is they do send them. But in all honesty the food in all of Europe is trash and should not be lied about on an American plate. Yes that’s what I think Olive Garden does. Because no food in this country is that good.

    • Kellie repeated exactly what was said in the article. They do send 10 people per year there as an incentive. They then took that little fact, and decided to create a false narrative that they send their chefs there to learn to cook authentic Italian recipes and bring them back for the Olive Garden menu. This is patently misleading. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING on the Olive Garden menu is anything close to “authentic,” and none of the “chefs” at Olive Garden have had any ability to apply their newfound “skills” in cooking at an Olive Garden, and most certainly not to bring recipes back. For any Italian, Olive Garden is absolute inedible. It is as much Italian as Taco Bell is Mexican.