The Austin Chronicle


Learning to Cook Italianat the Source

By Virginia B. Wood, August 14, 1998, Food

Early in June, Austin chef Harvey Harris called to tell me that he had enrolled in the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners (I.C.I.F.) in the Piedmont region of Italy. Though Harris has worked at some well-known Italian restaurants in both Houston (Damian's and the original Carrabba's) and Austin (Stelline and Mezzaluna), he was eager to study the authentic preparation of classic Italian dishes. He credits his wife, Elise Harris, with making it possible for him to pursue his dream. "She's willing to stay here and work, take care of the kids, everything, so I can go," he told me with pride. I told him she's a better woman than I am. Harvey departed Austin on June 23 with a promise to send news and progress reports via e-mail. But July came and went with nary a message. Then, just when I'd given up on him, a letter from Italy arrived last week with a brochure and picture postcard of the medieval Castello Costigliole d' Asti (c. 1041), where the culinary school is housed. Turns out there's no e-mail in the village where Harvey is staying, so his enthusiastic reports have to get to me the old-fashioned way. His first one exclaims, "The scenery is spectacular, the wine abundant, and the food ranges from very good to 'I didn't realize rabbit could taste so awesome.' Daily classes are eight to 10 hours long and conducted in very modern classrooms inside a 1,000-year-old castle. They are very intensive and approached with great detail. We study the molecular structure of an olive, then take the process all the way to olive oil extraction. Same thing with grapes. Even though we are in Piedmonte and eat a lot of that cuisine, we study and prepare the cuisines of other regions. ...

So far, we've baked bread, hand-rolled pasta, made pizzas, ragus, risottos, and several antipasti. Every night is Big Night!"

The letter goes on to describe two mouthwatering recent dishes prepared at the school: Insalate di Coniglio con Vinaigretto al Tartufo (pan-seared rabbit loin on mixed greens with truffle oil) and Agnolotti dal pin(little pillows stuffed with pork, rabbit, and veal dressed with herb butter).

Once he has completed two months of classes, Harvey will be home for a 10-day vacation with Elise and the kids. Then he returns to Italy for a 4-month externship in San Gimignano at a restaurant called Il Pino, where he'll concentrate on the preparation of wild game dishes and authentic Tuscan cuisine. Once Harvey has completed the externship, Elise will join him for a well-deserved week of vacation in Italy. Look for Harvey and Stan Adams, owner of Gilligan's and the Brick Oven, to open an Italian trattoria in northwest Austin later this year or in early 1999. For info on I.C.I.F., call 39/141/962.171 or check its website at


Two popular eateries have lost their leases and are looking for new locations. Russell Millner of Russell's Bakery (329-6388) is keeping his wholesale customers happy from a rented South Austin kitchen while he looks for a new retail spot. Millie Hernandez of Enchiladas y Mas (2804 N. I-35, 478-9222) reports that she has until December to find a new outlet for its great Mexican food...

Last week, a brochure arrived announcing the new venture of Creative Cuisine & Catering of Austin: the Professional Culinary Arts School (2823 Hancock, 451-5743), which will offer Austin's first professional pastry arts program...

In keeping with Starbucks' long-term commitment to literacy, local Starbucks outlets will accept new or gently used children's books for donation to Austin Community Nursery Schools until August 19...

Call before going to the recently reviewed Lagniappe Cajun Cafe (263-8464); its hours have been a bit irregular lately. Regular hours resume August 17.

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