Andy Ramsay, the floor manager at Roxy Restaurant on Fair Oaks Boulevard, is about to leave for what shapes up to be the culinary adventure of a lifetime.
He has been accepted into the masters program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the small town of Bra in northern, Italy, which happens to be home of the official headquarters of the Slow Food Movement. In fact, Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, founded the university in 2004.
"I think the world of Andy," said Terri Gilliland, who co-owns Roxy with her husband Ron. "To me, he is one of those rarities of his generation in this business in that he is completely motivated by passion. He loves food and wine and is making the study of both a life pursuit
"His leaving is bittersweet in that I will miss him greatly but also couldn't be happier for him with this upcoming incredible opportunity to actually see, experience, taste and study the food of Italy."
The academic odyssey is a long way from the days when Ramsay was a student at UCLA - studying writing, of all things. Sometimes you go to school for one thing and figure out while you're there that it's another thing altogether.
"When I was doing my writing degree, I fell in love with food and hosting parties," he told me.
It didn't hurt that his mother is Italian.
"She kind of had the host gene. I think I got that from her. I just ran with it in college. It got to the point where I cared way more about the next party I was going to throw or recipe I was going to try," he said.
Between his junior and senior year, Ramsay landed a job at a Bay Area restaurant, knowing he wanted to do something with food but having very little on his resume to show for it.
"The only real plan was to work in a restaurant because I had never done that before. The chef took a chance on me. I felt like I was a very competent at-home cook, but very little of that translated into a commercial restaurant."
Ramsay finished his course work at UCLA in 2007. Prior to landing a job at Roxy, he went the corporate route to gain experience.
That may surprise some readers. But several successful restaurant employees have told me that working at a chain drilled into them all the fundamentals.
"On the advice of a family friend, he said the best thing for me to do would be to work for a corporate restaurant chain. Those corporate places have really strong systems in place; whereas mom and pop places rely on workers who don't need the systems because they have so much experience."
He worked for the Houston's Restaurant Group in Century City. It was during that stint that he got the idea to go to Italy and pursue a culinary education.
"It's something I want to pursue to the fullest. My goal is to have my own restaurant someday (in Los Angeles)," he said.
In 2008, Ramsay landed a job as floor manager at Roxy. In his spare time, he kept close tabs on what other places were doing. He focused on low-end places selling tacos and tamales and high-end places that prepare gourmet cuisine and have impeccable service. The middle? He doesn't think there's a lot there worth learning.
In late May, he will embark on a 12-month program in Italy, where courses are available in Italian or English. Ramsay knows some Italian and is pretty good with Spanish. The curriculum includes eight weeks of study while traveling.
Anyone interested in doing something similar should start saving up. Ramsay says tuition, travel and eight weeks of an internship will cost about $30,000.