To Florence, Italy, and back again

July 27, 2015

Culinary student studies in Tuscany – twice – before heading to the James Beard House in NYC

Alix Osborn began working in the restaurant business as a busboy for Brother’s Railroad Inn near Altoona, Kansas. A few years later, after training at Johnson County Community College, he had expertly prepared Tuscan cuisine in Florence, Italy, and New York City.

In spring 2014, Osborn completed a nine-week culinary apprenticeship at the Apicius International School of Hospitality, a part of the Florence University of the Arts in Italy.

Then in fall 2014, after only a few months back in the States, he returned to Apicius to prepare for Tutto Tuscana. The special four-week, six-credit program would take him from Florence to New York’s famed James Beard House, cooking nearly around the clock.

Where it began

But let’s back up a bit, to a day when Osborn was sitting in class. As a student in JCCC’s chef apprenticeship program, he listened to alumnus Cody Durbin talk about an amazing program in Florence, Italy. Durbin had finished the program and said he recommended it.

“I had always wanted to travel the world,” Osborn said, and here was this opportunity. But how, he wondered? Time to apply was tight, and money was going to be an issue.

Staff in JCCC’s international education office stepped in at just the right time. With their help, he applied for (and received) a Gilman International Scholarship.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it with that scholarship,” Osborn said. He was working his way through college, he explained, and a young man who grew up in a town of 350 wasn’t exactly an international jetsetter.

That didn’t mean he didn’t want to be. A fellow server at a restaurant where Osborn worked told stories of his travels abroad. A few dollars in his pocket, and his friend Gabriel would perambulate the continents.

“I thought, ‘If he could do it, I could do it,’” Osborn said.

Where he went

He spent nine weeks as a chef for Ganzo, the student-run restaurant for Florence University of the Arts. Under the umbrella of an “experiential learning internship,” he was second-in-command in the kitchen and cooked for customers who appreciated fine dining.

“JCCC really set me up for success,” Osborn said. “I was a little intimidated by the amount of responsibility, but the chef was definitely happy with my work.”

In fact, Alix was offered a scholarship for a fall program, which covered much of the expense of his return to Italy. So, only two months after his internship ended, Osborn headed back to Florence to plan for Tutto Toscana, a four-week program that starts in Florence, then moves to New York City for a series of special events, culminating in several meals prepared at the James Beard House.

The whirlwind week in NYC would include a dinner at New Jersey City University, a class on sauces followed a family-style lunch at the High School of Fashion Industries, with the finale at the James Beard House. From portable kitchens affixed on trailers, these meals would celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Tutto Toscana program’s affiliation with the James Beard Foundation.

The JCCC student wrote the “bible” for the event – so named because it provided the essential documents so the dinner proceeded professionally. It included the order sheets, the menu and photos of pre-prepared dishes to use as templates for presentation the night of the event.

“I wanted to be overprepared,” Osborn said. 

The James Beard House is a townhouse in Greenwich Village where chefs and food enthusiasts from around the world gather to cook, learn and eat.

For two days, they worked to prepare the dinner, followed by one day of cooking and serving. The next day, they repeated the process all over again.

What he learned

He learned “the ability to execute in high-stress environments,” he said. “We were waking up incredibly early, putting in long nights…we got good collaboration, though. In the end, we were one big happy family.”

Osborn graduated from both the food and beverage management program and the chef apprenticeship program chef apprenticeship program at JCCC. He currently works at 715, a restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas.

“What JCCC has to offer is phenomenal,” Osborn said. He said as much when he came back to a JCCC chef apprentice class to share his experiences, just as Durbin had done before.

For more information on the chef apprenticeship program or the food and beverage program at JCCC, contact Ona Ashley at 913-469-8500, ext. 4160.