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So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Maria Sulprizio

August 13, 2010 |  8:00 am

Test Kitchen Blog

This week has been a whirlwind of recipe testing in the Kitchen, and today is no different. We've finished testing 6 different kinds of popsicles and are now knee-deep in gelato, testing and shooting five different flavors. We're also testing frittatas, a curried cauliflower salad, chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch pie and crab cakes. An eclectic assortment of recipes, maybe, but it's just another day in the Test Kitchen.

We test and re-test until we're certain the recipes we want to run are consistent and solid. (And we may opt to do a little extra testing on particularly tasty recipes, like the massive chocolate chip cookies pictured above.)

In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (recipe reading, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.

And as much as they may learn from us, we also learn a lot from them. Hailing from various regions and with diverse ethnic backgrounds, our interns bring unique perspectives and passions to our kitchen, whether it's discussing the secret intricacies of a Texas-style "bowl o' red" or sharing a mother's technique for making Chinese bao. What we all share is a deep love of food.

Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including, most recently, Kat Nitsou and Joe Moon. Joe has gone to continue his studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Kat's last day is tomorrow, and then she's off to Toronto.

Here, I introduce Maria Sulprizio, on loan from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood Campus). -- Noelle Carter

Today in the Test Kitchen, we're making gelato. An amazing array including fragola (strawberry), limone (lemon), Parmigiano (Parmesan), fior di fragola (a creamy strawberry gelato) and cioccolato (chocolate). And I’m trying my hand at a butterscotch gelato pie, with graham cracker crust and rich chocolate topping.

This is my first attempt at gelato, and the Test Kitchen has this compact Arete Viva gelato maker – it’s an older Italian machine, and the butterscotch base is creamy and velvety as it churns.  As the gelato thickens, I’m taken back to my Italian heritage – into the mountains of Abruzzo, from which my grandfather immigrated at the turn of the century, from the small village of Tocco Da Casauria.

The specialties of Abruzzo come back to me: chitarra (a square-shaped spaghetti) tossed in a pomodoro sauce with the slightest essence of lamb, from a small taverna in the hilltop village of Pacentro (home of the Ciccones, the Madonna Ciccones). Down the mountain road at Ristorante Clemente in Sulmona, I remember a fresh pear and chocolate tart. And there was Cantina di Biffi’s pistachio cake, moist, crowned with chocolate and nestled in a creamy pool of mint sauce. Further down the road, in the village of my grandfather, on a farm there is a single fig tree which stands alone among one thousand olive trees – and it is against this tree that all figs are judged. Well, by me at least. 

For close to 40 years my father owned a restaurant in Richmond, Ind. called The Blue Note.  His aunt, Donata, came to America in 1912 from Abruzzo with her mother, Olimpia Rose, after her father passed away.  Donata was the cook and my great-grandmother sat in a chair and oversaw production.  My parents met at The Blue Note, and mom learned all the recipes of Abruzzo from great-aunt Donata. All of my Italian ancestors passed away before I was born, but I have early memories of standing on a perch in the kitchen of our Studio City house with mom as we spent Sunday mornings making eggplant parmesan or lasagna for Sunday dinner.

And now I’ve decided to turn my passion for food professional. I’m a longtime fan of the L.A. Times Food Section -- in fact, I have a three-ring binder full of clipped recipes at home.  So for me, to be here in the Test Kitchen as an intern is serendipitous. These past few weeks we’ve tested a blinding array of recipes, both savory and sweet. It seems we just finished testing pies – we baked more than 40 for a recent story. Before I knew it, I was double-checking recipes and making a sweet cherry pie – it turned out beautifully, and was only my second pie, ever.

Mariapie And now we’re testing gelatos. I’ve finished the butterscotch gelato, and it’s setting up in the freezer as we prepare the chocolate glaze to pour over the top.

All too soon, my internship will be coming to an end. And with fall approaching, I’ll soon be back in Italy. The chefs know me, and though I bombard them with culinary questions in my child-like Italian, they always ask: When it is that you’ll return to Abruzzo?  Through all the wonderful experiences I'm putting together a book of memoirs and food adventures of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Campania to celebrate my heritage.  This October, I'll return to Rome to train with Silvia Sallorenzo at Babette Caffe & Ristorante in Rome's artisty Via Margutta district.  Silvia is an incredible chef; she and her sister Flora own the restaurant which they named after the classic film, "Babette's Feast."

In the meantime, we’re getting ready to shoot the finished butterscotch pie. I’m nervous as I slice it, and sneak a piece of the chocolate glaze – amazing. We’re lighting a stand-in as I put the finishing touches on the slice before it’s photographed. Food styling and photography are an art unto themselves, but all I can think about is trying a bite of that finished pie.

- Maria Sulprizio

Top photo, from left: Noelle Carter, Maria Sulprizio and Mary Pat Kuppig. Photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Noelle Carter.

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