Veterans Benefits Implementer and Journalist Gary Kieffer Shares his Apicius Experience
Gary Kieffer is the individual behind the efforts to recognize Apicius programs through the US Department of Veterans Affairs. A longtime photojournalist who has covered politics and culture for over twenty years, Gary also helped program the Platypus digital photography workshop hosted at DIVA this summer, sponsored by Apple and led by digital journalist Dirck Halstead. He is currently enrolled in the 1-year Career Development Culinary Arts Program at Apicius.
Gary, you are currently studying culinary arts at Apicius. Could you tell us a bit about your decision to become fully immersed in Italian cuisine?
I first came to Italy in 1976 when I was stationed with the Southern European Task Force at Caserma Ederle, in Vicenza. I fell in love with Italy, the culture, people and of course the cuisine. One of my best friends is an Italian, a former interpreter for the M.P.s and carabinieri. He once ran a restaurant and over the years he’s taught me how to cook proper Italian food. But I got to the point where I wanted to learn more and Apicius offered the best range of courses and hands-on instruction for me. I looked at some other schools, but there’s really no comparison when you have a chance to learn from Italian chefs in Italy.
You have quite a long background in the field of journalism. How did it start and where has it taken you?
It was the beginning of the new Volunteer Army, I joined to fly helicopters in 1973. Before then we still had the draft was still in effect. After basic training, I was told at my flight physical that trainees with glasses were not accepted. So the next job that interested me was still photography. I was honor graduate of my photo class and selected to go to Ft. Myer, Va. where they have the units that support the White House and the President. I was immediately thrown into the midst of the “big guys.” It was quite a shock, but I was helped along by many pros that were vets are themselves. They taught me a great deal. After the Army I worked as a staff photographer for U.S. News and World Report and freelanced for Newsweek, Time, USA Today and L.A. Times mainly. I ran a defense magazine for a couple of years and even a photo agency for a while. I have covered conflicts in Central America, the Middle East and the Balkans, fashion in NYC and Milan, every President since Nixon, rubbed elbows with Willie Nelson and Jesse Jackson, it has been a very interesting and exciting career.
You are one of the key figures thanks to whom the US Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes Palazzi programs, the first agreement being for study at Apicius. What are the benefits for veterans who wish to study at Palazzi institutions in Florence, Italy?
The main thing I think for the vets is the enthusiasm and the cooperation of everyone on the staff of Apicius. I have had tremendous help in filling out the paperwork, working on course scheduling, figuring out the primary focus of my education, everything, down to where to buy the right shoes for the kitchen. The chefs on faculty are amazing. They are very friendly yet complete professionals of the highest standards available with a wealth of experience. I can’t think of a better program anywhere.
Insights on your current semester in Florence? How have your expectations changed upon arriving and what are some of the new discoveries that you have made, personally and academically?
When I first came to Apicius I was a bit overwhelmed. This place is just full of terrific people handing out not only the knowledge from textbooks, but from their personal experience. They are so much to learn, it’s simply amazing. I have spent the last two years in a very peaceful setting in Piemonte, in Northern Italy. Now I dropped into a vibrant city center full of culture. The vibe here is fantastic. It energizes you like I haven’t experienced in years. The schoolwork is a challenge, there’s nothing easy about it, but it’s fun to learn and a joy to come to class everyday.