Ben Gaiarin, a 16-year-old Reston native and student at South Lakes High School, caramelizes a pan of balsamic onions.
Imagine yourself savoring all the flavors of Europe; the cheeses and breads of Switzerland, the bratwurst and schnitzel of Germany, the pastries of France, the pastas and pizzas of Italy and the classic dishes of countries like England, Spain, Austria and Hungary.
Ben Gaiarin, a 16-year-old Reston native and student at South Lakes High School, has done all this and more. A dual citizen of Italy and the United States, Ben is a food-enthusiast and an aspiring chef. “Being around my grandma, my Italian grandma, my nonna Italia, I always found her to be the best cook in the world and she taught me a lot, making homemade gnocchi and ragus and fried zucchini flour,” said Gaiarin.
Realizing he wanted to share his love of cooking as an art form with others, Ben decided in the summer of 2012 to start a food blog, documenting his travels, experiences and new recipes. He not only emphasizes how to make the recipes, but includes photos of the food as he cooks it, which he considers art as well. “I wanted the website to be just a beautiful piece of work, really focus on the pictures because the beauty of the food is in the pictures, not so much just the writing,” said Gaiarin.
After much contemplation with his family, he named the website BenGusto. Ben as a shortened version of the word “buon” for good in Italian and “Gusto” for the word taste, “Good Taste.” As he started blogging about his experiences with food in Italy, like gelato and tomato sandwiches, Ben began to build a substantial following. Now he has around 100 followers, from all over the world, with a significant following here in Fairfax County.
Three years back, Ben had lunch with the famous Italian chef Luigi Brunetti. There, Brunetti casually mentioned to Ben that he could come work for him any time. At the time, Ben thought nothing of it. But as his work with his blog increased, he thought that working for a famous chef in Italy would be great for his writing. So this summer he worked for two weeks at the Tuscan restaurant of the Agrihotel Elisabetta.
“I worked under this top chef and this family, it’s almost the stereotypical establishment that you would imagine an Italian hotel to be. It was run by one family; yes they have some arguments, just like TV. They have some arguments between the workers, the waiter son doesn’t really like the waiter chef, they kind of fight a little bit, but they all love each other,” said Ben of his experience.
With the staff not sure of his experience, he started with the dirty work at the restaurant, but once he proved himself he was assigned major tasks like preparing the lobster or pasta dish for the main meal. He made tiramisu and fresh breads and even learned how to gut a fish, which turned out to be his favorite task.
Ben hopes to continue his blog and expand the name brand of BenGusto into a tool for young chefs to learn to create their own recipes and expand as a personal chef business.