Advertising can be a murky world. It's hard to tell what's real, and what's not.
There really was a Chef Boyardee, for instance, although the inspiration behind Chef Boyardee spelled his last name in the more ethnically-correct manner: Boirdi.
The easier to pronouce Betty Crocker, however, was a complete invention by Madison Ave. Even though I'd like to think there's a tiger named Tony who really thinks Frosted Flakes are great, I'm pretty sure he isn't real either. Ditto for Ronald McDonald.
That's why it's kind of nice to know that Olive Garden, that most all-American of family-style Italian restaurants, isn't embellishing when it claims to have its own culinary institute. Those TV ads are apparently true. There really is an Olive Garden Culinary Institute of Tuscany.
Depending how you feel about the truth, you may feel that it's stretched slightly, though. Jaunted.com, a blog that focuses on popular culture and travel, recently "broke" the burning question as to whether the institute actually exists (thank God, because I had been up at night wondering).
According to their sources, the "institute" is a group of attractive, rustic buildings with a pool, but that it isn't a full-time Olive Garden cooking school. The chain sends some of its cooks, managers and waiters there every once in awhile, to work on training and menu development. The Consumerist mentions that visitors can tour the school and take classes there.
I contacted the Olive Garden to see if I could get a comment or some more information on this vaunted institute -- vaunted enough to make it onto the chain's TV ads -- but they couldn't get anyone to me for an interview by press time. They did, however, point me to the Institute's web page, which describes the "institute's" rustic buildings, located in the 11th-century village of Riserva di Fizzano. It states that more than 100 managers visit the school every year, where they immerse themselves in Italian cuisine for a week.
So yes, Olive Garden does indeed operate a cooking school, but calling it the Olive Garden Culinary Institute of Tuscany? That may be stretching things just a little.
Next, I'm hoping Jaunted or some other website exposes the truth about the advertisements of a certain famous candy. I could be way off here, but I'm guessing those talking M&M's I keep seeing might not be authentic, talking M&M's.
The Olive Garden's cooking school is real ... sort of