I was a manager at Olive Garden and was sent to their culinary institute in Tuscany back in 2007. It was more like a hotel, during the off-season, with restaurant on site. They would let the Olive Garden come and stay in all the rooms and they would use the restaurant as a classroom for maybe an hour here or there and talk about spices or fresh produce for a minute before going site seeing all day. The only time we saw the "chef" was when she made a bolognese sauce while taking pictures with each of us to send to our local newspapers. Basically, yes, they send people to Italy every year. As a manager I still got paid my salary and didn't have to use vacation time, it counted as "work". They paid for everything from meals, sightseeing, flight, everything except souvenirs. But in return, they sent pre-written articles to out local newspaper with fake quotes from me and a group photo. Also every year when they would run the promotion, I was supposed to wear a special "chef" coat and make conversation with guests who ordered the promotional meals.
I don't want to shock anyone, but we may have been mislead. I think I saw the Olive Garden commercial touting their cooking school about 15 times before the message internalized and I realized that Olive Garden was talking about a cooking school to which they send their chefs and managers. I don't know if any of you have been to an Olive Garden lately, but I think they need to take a look at the curriculum. Turns out the school is more of a vacation, then educational facility.