The Rome Sustainable Food Program (RSFP) at the American Academy prepares community style daily meals for the fellows and also maintains a rich organic garden and orchard. Head chef Kyle Pierce and I chatted about the Academy, the RSFP kitchen and garden, and the RSFP food philosophy and internship program.
About Kyle Pierce
Kyle first worked in the RSFP kitchen in 2012 and then moved back to the United States where he had various restaurant experiences. The RSFP kitchen and its philosophy was always at the back of Kyle’s mind and so in 2016 he returned to the American Academy in Rome as sous chef and then later became head chef. Kyle trained at the Culinary Institute of America but much of his culinary philosophy and formation was shaped by the Academy RSFP. You can find Kyle on Instagram.
The Academy philosophy is to rotate the head chef position every three years but due to Covid Kyle has stayed on longer. Plans are that by next year this time a new chef will be in place.
About the American Academy in Rome
Each September a new group of 35 talented Rome Prize winners (the fellows) comes to the Academy for a sabbatical type year to pursue projects and studies in their field. Rome Prize winners come from an assortment of disciplines: architecture, design – including graphic, fashion, city planning and other design fields, historic preservation and conservation, literature, medieval, ancient, Renaissance and early modern studies, modern Italian studies, music composition and visual arts.
Housing and studios are available for the fellows and their families, as well as daily community meals. The Academy has a fabulous open courtyard so when the weather is good the fellows and their families dine at a long communal table. During the winter months there is an indoor dining room, again with a number of communal dining tables. These meals are a great moment of the day for the fellows to interact and exchange ideas.
The American Academy is located at the very top of one of Rome’s seven hills, the Janiculum Hill. Visit the Academy here. The American Academy building was designed by American architects who designed it with the Academy’s present day use in mind. It has wonderful communal areas, great studios and housing units, a fabulous courtyard and beautiful garden.
One past fellow of the Academy is the renowned and award winning author Anthony Doerr. During his year at the Academy he was working on his book All the Light We Cannot See. It's one of my favorite books of all time and won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Anthony Doerr spent the year in Rome with his wife and six month old twins so his year was a mixture of delight with the city of Rome, its people and food along with a year of insomnia caused by life with baby twins.
Later Doerr wrote a delightful and charming book about the year he spent at the American Academy in Rome: Four Seasons in Rome. This book is nothing short of delightful and every time I read it I fall in love with the city of Rome once again. His stories about food, Italian people and the exquisite, breathtaking and unusual light in Rome as it’s cast on Rome’s monuments and streets.
The RSFP at the American Academy in Rome
Quite a number of years ago the Academy had a reputation of serving rather unpalatable meals to its fellows. Then along came Alice Waters and in 2006 the Academy asked her to help transform the American Academy of Rome kitchen. She asked the Academy if they wanted just a few changes or a revolution and they opted for a revolution. Alice Waters believes that dining and cooking should be accompanied by a kitchen garden and so the RSFP garden was born. Then chef Mona Talbott worked tirelessly to find sustainable food providers for the Academy and she came up with a great list of purveyors that's still used to this day, along with some additions and modifications along the way. A few of the American Academy RSFP favorite purveyors are Le Spinose, Campagna Amica, and Fattoria Faraoni.
The American Academy in Rome kitchen mirrors a homestyle kitchen. There's not a menu that fellows choose from but instead a fixed menu each day just as you would have in a home kitchen. Pre-Covid fellows served themselves from platters of food prepared at lunch and dinner, but now each fellow is served an individual plate of food.
Again, as you would have in a home kitchen, focus is on flavor along with nutrition and health considerations. Therefore not lots of rich, cholesterol laden dishes and desserts. Dinner is the main meal of the day and lunches are lighter, often vegetarian. For breakfast and weekends fellows are on their own.
Kyle Pierce is the head chef along with sous chef Sara Levi and one other full-time cook.
The RSFP internship program
The RSFP kitchen is also a teaching kitchen with a robust internship program of interns and visiting cooks. There are two sessions of interns each year, each for 5 ½ months. It's a competitive program and three out of about 45 applicants are accepted for each session. If you’re interested apply here.
It's a hands-on approach to learning so the interns work right along with the professional chefs to enhance their culinary skills and learn about the sustainable philosophy within the RSFP kitchen. Interns work in the kitchen and also share in the maintenance of the kitchen garden and orchard. The garden and orchard provide about 15% of the produce needed for the kitchen and the rest is purchased from sustainable, hand-selected purveyors.
American Academy in Rome RSFP cookbooks
Thanksgiving at the American Academy in Rome
By the time November rolls around the fellows are anxious to have a traditional American style Thanksgiving. That means a roast turkey and all the fixings. This year the fellows are focused on worldwide issues and challenges like immigration and they want to see this reflected in their Thanksgiving meal. One of the ideas is to incorporate some North African dishes or flavors into the menu.
Head chef Kyle Pierce likes to feature a refreshing dish or salad in the Thanksgiving menu and he plans to use his recipe for a shaved brussels sprouts salad. Kyle has generously shared his recipe:
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad, with Apple, Pomegranate, Lemon, and Pecorino
Insalata di Cavoletti di Bruxelles crudi, con Mele, Melograno, Limone e Pecorino
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 apples, semi-tart variety (such as Pink Lady or Fuji)
1 pomegranate, arils (or seeds), removed
¼ cup pickled fresh parsley leaves, roughly torn with you fingers
⅛ cup pickled fresh mint leaves, roughly torn with you fingers
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good extra virgin olive oil, about ¼ cup plus 2 T
Pecorino Romano cheese, for grating
Start by thinly shaving the Brussels sprouts. You can do this either using a sharp knife, or a mandoline. The most important thing is that they are shaved thin. Trim away any discolored leaves and core, cut the sprout in half, and then, with the sprout cut side down, either shave on the mandoline or with a knife. Place into a bowl once they are all shaved.
Cut the apple into matchsticks, or julienne, by slicing the apple also on the mandoline or with a knife, about ⅛''. Then take these slices and slice them again lengthwise so you are left with matchsticks about ⅛'' by ⅛'' by 1-2 inches long. Add these to the bowl with the Brussels sprouts.
Add the pomegranate seeds to the bowl and then squeeze the juice of the lemon over everything, catching the lemon seeds in your hand or a strainer. Stir to dress all the ingredients and then add the herbs, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle in the olive oil. Stir well so everything is dressed. Taste and adjust seasoning before plating into a large bowl or serving platter. Grate the Pecorino Romano over top, covering the salad with generous shavings of the cheese before serving.
A few Thanksgiving menu ideas
This year I plan to tweak my recipe for shaved brussels sprouts salad and add a few festive, flavor elements from Kyle's recipe. Fresh or dried cranberries, or pomegranate arils adds sweet contrast and festive color. The salty umami flavor of pecorino Romano cheese is another great flavor element in a shaved brussels sprouts salad.
This year I’m opting for a whole roast pig instead of turkey (read about it here) and if you like the idea of pork for your menu but not necessarily a whole pig then try this luscious Pork Belly with a Sticky Pomegranate Glaze.
One of my favorite desserts year-round is my Caramel Walnut Tort. You can make it with walnuts or pecans.
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