As a culinary assistant of the Oklahoma City Olive Garden, Lorene Edwards doesn’t mind “going the extra mile.”

Even if it means traveling to Italy.

Recently however, Edwards had the chance to experience Italian culture first-hand, as she and 12 fellow culinary assistants spent a week dining on traditional food, visiting local wineries and training at Olive Garden’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany.

“Seeing the enthusiasm Italians have for food, at the markets, the vineyards and in the kitchen, was amazing,” she said. “This experience traveling through Italy, tasting fresh ingredients and cooking authentic meals has reinvigorated my love for Italian cuisine. I’m excited to bring that spirit back to our guests.

Each year, Olive Garden selects approximately 100 managers and culinary assistants to travel to Italy for a chance to enhance their culinary skills.

The experience is designed to bring the genuine Italian dining experience alive for managers and culinary leaders, and upon their return, to their restaurant teams and guests.

At the company’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany, Edwards worked under the direction of Olive Garden’s executive chefs, learning the time-honored traditions of Italian cooking by refining their skills in ingredient selection, the secret to layering sauces, perfecting al dente pasta and creating the most flavorful meals.

The group also spent time visiting Olive Garden’s Riserva di Fizzano restaurant and the Rocca delle Macie winery, Olive Garden’s partner and one of Italy’s leading producers of Tuscan wines.

There, the class learned about the history and tradition of Italian winemaking, learning first-hand of the important role wine plays in the Italian meal.

“The passion that Italians have for food, wine and the entire dining experience defines how they live life…with enthusiasm and generosity,” she said. “I can’t wait to share the same care and warmth the people of Italy bring to every meal with my team and our guests.”

Of course, no trip to Italy could be complete without time spent exploring its beautiful cities and Edwards and her companions had the chance to go sightseeing throughout Rome, Florence and Tuscany,.

Olive Garden culinary assistants were chosen to train in Italy by their director of operations and senior vice president; so far, more than 600 managers and culinary assistants have trained at Culinary Institute of Tuscany.

The Olive Garden is a major restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 643 restaurants, 80,000 employees and more $2.8 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants Inc.

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