If you didn’t already know it, Naval Air Station Sigonella has an extensive community relations program, and it conducts over 200 COMREL events annually throughout Sicily. Whether it’s helping to clean up a beach, painting school facilities, rehabbing churches, or practicing English speaking skills with Italian students, it’s a small way that we can say “thank you” to our host nation for being our close partners and allies.
Recently, culinary specialists attached to U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella had the unique opportunity to not only help Italian culinary students practice their conversational English, but also learn the Sicilian pasta-cooking techniques.
Culinary Specialist 1st Class Johnnie Mewborn, one of six CS Sailors who attended the COMREL, said that although they sometimes cook meals for patients who stay in the ward at the hospital, they spend a lot of their time doing other assigned duties that don’t necessarily correspond to their rate. He came up with the idea of doing a culinary cultural exchange and proposed the idea to NAS Sigonella’s COMREL Director, Dr. Alberto Lunetta. If all goes to plan, this will be the first in a series of COMRELs where culinary specialists learn pasta-cooking techniques and students from the Istituto Alberghiero G. Falcone Succursale culinary high school practice speaking English.
The Italian and American chefs cooked four typical Italian pasta dishes together: Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, Farfalle with concassea sauce, Pennetta alla Norma, and Paccheri alla carrettiera. All four dish names indicate the shape of the pasta followed by the sauce that it is served with. Together, the students prepped the sauces and cooked the pasta, all while finding basic ways of communicating in English. Afterwards, students trained in restaurant service served the dishes to their visitors according to professional hospitality standards.
Unlike a typical American high school, the Istituto Alberghiero G. Falcone Succursale trains students to enter the hospitality industry directly after graduating. Some specialize in hospitality management, some in service, and others in culinary or pastry arts. In addition to those specialties, they also take traditional academic classes to achieve the equivalent of a high school diploma. In their fifth and final year, each student regardless of their specialty must pass a national English exam to demonstrate their proficiency in the English language.
Monica Insanguine, Principal of the institute, remarked about how helpful the event was for her students in advancing their English skills in the kitchen. Afterwards, the students even translated the Italian recipes into English so the Sailors could take their skills back to Navy kitchens.
“Thank you for sharing this intercultural experience, which is helping my students to improve their English language skills specific to cooking techniques,” said Insanguine.
Mewborn commented on the relative ease with which the Italians and Americans were able to communicate in the kitchen.
“There was definitely a language barrier, but when it came to interact through cooking, we had something in common and from there, everything just seemed to flow making it easier to communicate and learn,” said Mewborn.
The Sailors were also invited back to the Istituto for World Pasta Day, which is normally celebrated on October 25 but was postponed this year to November 6 due to the extreme weather. Mewborn said that the team of Navy culinary specialists is looking forward to continuing their collaboration.
“From the time we entered the school to the time we left, they were nothing less than hospitable,” said Mewborn. “I look forward to continuing this arrangement for as long as they will have us.”