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.
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:
Co-Founder of Culture Discovery Vacations. I am a native American from Los Angeles that has been living with one foot in Italy and the other in the US for more than 30 years. I usually write about oddities I see in Italian culture from an American perspective, and the humor I find in it. However, after decades of living in both countries, I often see the reverse as well. That is, where the Italians got it right, and we can certainy learn from them!