What You Didn't Know About Olive Garden's Culinary Institute

You can't mention popular eateries in the U.S. without thinking about Olive Garden. In fact, according to Taste of Home, the chain of eateries is so popular that it has several copycat recipes of its meals on the web. The breadsticks at Olive Garden are plenty: The restaurant bakes as many as 700 million breadsticks every single year. Gulp. If you do the math, you'll be assigning three breadsticks to each customer.

Here's something you probably didn't know: Olive Garden doesn't just have a bunch of restaurants across the country. It also has a culinary school in Tuscany, Italy. What was that? You don't believe it? It's true and a well-documented fact that is still relatively unknown even among the restaurant's fans. As reported by CNN back in 2010, the institute is very much real and not just a modern culinary fairy tale. It runs every winter for a period of 11 weeks and trains talented chefs and managers from Olive Garden outlets across the U.S. These lessons in Italian gastronomic practices began in a long time ago: in 1999. 

Education or vacation?

As per Eater, the culinary school does exist, but there's a slight twist. Basically, the chain's top managers go off to Tuscany during the off-season and spend time in Italy, learning Italian food, taking in the local sights and sounds, and more. Basically, this is an institute in the sense that some of the brand's staff members end up in Italy and use the opportunity to expand their knowledge. However, there isn't a lot of learning involved.

A former manager at Olive Garden spilled the beans on Reddit and wrote that the setup was more like a hotel, with all expenses paid except for souvenirs. The on-site restaurant, which was closed during the off-season, would serve as a classroom for around an hour every now and then. During "class," the participants would talk about spices and fresh produce before, well, heading out to explore the area.

The former manager added, "The only time we saw the 'chef' was when she made a bolognese sauce while taking pictures with each of us to send to our local newspapers. Basically, yes, they send people to Italy every year. As a manager I still got paid my salary and didn't have to use vacation time, it counted as 'work.'" The bottom line? The institute is great for the company's PR and brand image but doesn't quite help in the learning process. Eek.