Yes, it was a trip of a lifetime. In March, ten lucky students of the Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute traveled to Spain to study at the Culinary Institute of Barcelona (CIB) for ten days. “This was the first study-abroad trip for Mott Culinary students,” states Chef Mark Handy, an MCC instructor who accompanied the group on their amazing trip.
The students not only attended classes, they were also able to take in the sights, sounds and flavors of the beautiful city, an experience they say they will never forget. MCM spoke with Chef Handy and the students about the trip and what they experienced.
According to Handy, the educational classes at CIB began at eight in the morning and included subjects such as Chocolate, Molecular Gastronomy, Fermentation and cooking classes. They also attended a couple of Creative Thinking classes including “Change and Innovation” which was to help prepare the students for change. They also took classes in Catalan cuisine, which relies heavily on ingredients popular along the Mediterranean coast. “The classes were very different from classes in the U.S.,” said one of the students. “Their approach was not traditional.” In the afternoon, the students would prepare food using the skills they had learned in the morning class.
What the trip meant to me was being able to see another culture through other people’s eyes. The trip to Spain was eye-opening and boosted my confidence for future trips.”
This was a chance to see something you genuinely would only see once in a lifetime. It opened my mind to a new world. Interesting.”
As part of the educational program, the students had the opportunity to visit a farm-to-table olive farm where they learned how olives are processed and also enjoyed olive oil tastings. “It is a very prestigious and high-quality oil farm that has won competitions in Italy,” Handy reports. “The whole tasting process was similar to a wine tasting. It was such a beautiful day to be outdoors – the temperature was in the 70s.”
The students also spent a day in northeast Spain near the border of France, where they visited an anchovy factory. The group learned, among other things, how to clean anchovies. They traveled all day to get there and visited a Michelin restaurant where they were served a nine-course meal and viewed a demonstration about regional honey production.
The group also had free time for exploring Barcelona. “We took in some tourist spots,” Handy reports, including La Sagrada Familia – the largest Catholic Church in the world – and two Michelin two-star restaurants. They went to a Picasso museum and shopped at a flea market in a four-story building with hundreds of vendors. The group also took in the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. “I jumped in!” exclaims Gabriel. “It was beautiful.” They boarded a tram for a tour of the entire city of Barcelona and took a step back in time visiting medieval buildings in the Gothic Quarter. “It was nice to immerse ourselves in the culture,” says Asija. “We did a lot of walking!” Julie exclaims, “an average of seven miles a day.”
The students took note of many cultural differences – there were very few cars; transportation was by moped, trains, buses and trams. There were no Wal-Marts or big grocery stores, just small specialty shops all over the city offering fresh seafood and produce. Another difference was that each day from 2-6pm, the city shut down, the stores closed and people went home to rest. “There was a much better work/life balance there,” Kyra points out. “There were so many restaurants, groceries were cheaper, food was fresher and a better climate – ten days of sunshine.”
“They were very impressed with our students! I believe an exchange program will come out of this.”
Chef Mark Handy
The students and Handy stayed in an Airbnb rental. “We lived together for ten days with only two bathrooms,” one of the students shared. “We knew each other from school but have now bonded for life. We stepped up and helped each other.” Chef Handy adds, “We built a family really quickly.”
To me, this trip has opened my eyes to European travel and I one hundred percent plan on going back.”
This trip took away my fear of traveling and left me thirsty for more of what the world has to offer!”
The experience mesmerized me, leaving me with an unquenchable thirst to explore and learn more about the world. The innovative and unconventional teaching methods at the Culinary Institute of Barcelona ignited a passion within me to seek out more diverse approaches to education in other parts of the globe.”
As a chef, the trip for Handy was “like being a kid in a candy store – there were bakeries and coffee shops everywhere! Lunch was included in the education program so they sent us to a different restaurant every day. The experience was great. We were seated in a private room at the restaurants and the chef would come and talk to us.”
For both Handy and the students, their last night in Barcelona was one to remember and very special. Greg Campbell, the pastry chef at Mott Culinary Institute, had donated $500 to do something special for the students. Handy used that money for their last dinner at Restaurante Port Vella, a star-rated Michelin restaurant located in the harbor. It was a chilly night but the sea was warm so they sat outside overlooking the water. The scrumptious meal included a variety of seafood – lobster, calamari, oysters and salmon. A “mystery meat” was served (pork shoulder) with goat cheese salad and carrot cake for dessert. “It was a great experience!” Handy exclaims.
I am grateful for this experience. I enjoyed the food in Spain and taking classes at the CIB. The instructors there were great! We learned about creativity using ‘mind maps’ to help make different food dishes.”
“I have always been an avid traveler. Studying abroad in Spain was an incredible enhancement to both my education and career. The opportunity to absorb so much information as well as make anthropological observations outside my home country changed my life and will undoubtedly give me a step up in the job market.”
According to Handy, the study-abroad trip was a work-in-progress for a couple of years. “In 2019, a group was going to go to Florence, Italy,” he shares. “The pandemic hit and we had to cancel. It was very exciting to finally get to Barcelona.”
According to Handy, the relationship and education level of the students and administrators at the Culinary Institute of Barcelona was outstanding. “They were very impressed with our students,” he shares. “I believe an exchange program will come out of this and we will have a future relationship. I was asked if I would do the trip again. Yes, I will!”