The first and most obvious direction was to recognize the multitude of small farmers and food producers that are, not only the backbone of food production here in Italy and worldwide as well, but are often an almost hidden part of the economy that needs and deserves to have more light shown on them. Italy has done pretty well over the years to cultivate an awareness of traditional foods and methods of making products that were maybe once everyday products that have now become artisanal as they have been overshadowed by the enormous companies that dominate the food landscape. You can find many programs on TV that go around Italy seeking out small family farms and artisanal producers and focuses on their foods and lifestyle and community as part of travelogues here in Italy. I must say it is a tradition that I have noticed and greatly admired since I have lived here.
"Slow Food" has built on that tradition and in 1996 they organized the first "Salone del Gusto" (roughly translated as an exhibition of taste or flavor) in Turin "dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high quality products." This food fair has been built on the platform of an Italian and International marketplace for showcasing, sampling and purchasing what the exhibitors have brought to this biennial event. Held in the historical old Fiat factory building, called the Lingotto, it is an enormous sprawling showplace that offers an overwhelming sensory experience. The event runs from 11am to 11pm for 5 days, so you would think there would be plenty of time to take it all in, but I must warn you that there are just so many intriguing facets to this event that you will be hard pressed to make your way through the swirling sea of gustatory offerings.
One of the more well known parts of the "Salone del Gusto" that takes product tasting to another level, are what are called "Dinner Dates". These are exclusive dinners featuring special ingredients some familiar and most likely, some not, but all of the highest quality interpreted by celebrated chefs from around the world in a variety of exclusive settings. This year there were 20 dinners over the 5 nights with limited seating and so these are highly sought after dinner dates, which sell out quickly inspire of their pricey tickets. This type of exclusivity does play to what has been an ongoing critique of "Slow Food" as being an exclusive eating club. It is a fair criticism, and one that they have tried to address through many of their ever expanding initiatives that promotes their core belief that everyone deserves "good, clean and fair food" which you can learn more about following the link.
I personally think they have done much to counter balance this criticism, but there is still so much to do in this area and in so many directions whether it is fighting for the right to biodiversity, competing on a more level economic field where small produces can actually compete, not damage the environment doing so, and ultimately having pricing that the producers make a decent wage, whilst still being affordable to all economic incomes. Much work ahead to accomplish that goal and it will take a lot more of us banding together to make that happen. More on that in the next post.
|The two Antonias|
So back to the Dinner Date.
I was very fortunate to accompany my friend Antonia, visiting from Florida, and enjoy the dinner date entitled "Antonia's Vision." Antonia chose this dinner based on their common name and it turned out to be a wonderful selection. The food was accessible and to me familiar and yet with interesting and artful interpretation from Antonia and her team of what looked like female chefs, when they all came out at the end to take their much deserved bows. Each of the six courses were paired with some lovely wines from the Veneto region from where Chef Antonia Klugmann hails from. She was just awarded a Michelin star to her restaurant L'Argine in Venco` (Go), which is in the Friuli, Venezia, Guilia region and all of her dishes seemed to echo the culinary tastes of these two regions with the turn of her unique touch.
I won't go into all the details as I have added the menu with some snaps of the food to give you an idea of the dinner and do believe me that it was all quite delightful, sometimes surprising and definitely delicious. I have been asked if I thought the dinner was worth the €90 price tag and it is something I have asked myself as well. By nature and how I was raised, I have trouble spending a lot of money on food, when I am generally thinking how many groceries it will get me, especially when I may have found the meal lacking. This meal did not disappoint, but frankly the aspect of the dinner that knocked it out of the park for me, was the people that we were seated with for the dinner. The two couples what we were randomly seated with were delightful and interestingly enough, we had much in common. Three of us were avid bread bakers, all Slow Food members and believers. My friend Antonia's business is called The Loft 5 from Anna Marie Island in Florida. She is a tour de force with her talent and staff that goes from designing and planning your event, to catering, styling it and making sure everything goes off without a hitch. She has teamed up with the King Family Farms and created their very successful "Table to Farm" dinners, that were featured in Southern Living Magazine. You can read about that event here. The two Antonias had much in common.
The other two couples were charming and extremely fascinating as well. One couple were from Switzerland and both were graphic artists and interesting conversationalists as well. The other couple were from Portugal. They have a business aptly called Food, People & Design. What style and beauty in these talented hands. If that business isn't enough, they also have a farm a couple of hours out side of Lisbon where they have reclaimed some ancient olive trees that are said to be over 1,000 years old. They work in conjunction with their neighbors and even have set up an adoption program for their trees, to help nurture and provide for these very special trees. Do go to their site and consider adopting one of their trees or purchasing some of their organic oil. I am so impressed with their vision and hard work. Go to their site Azeitona Verde here.
Needles to say, our dining experience was lifted even higher with such lively exchanges of stories and ideas. For me that was as much of the highlight of the dinner as the food and wine. In regard to the earlier question that was posed to me, "was it worth the money?" I would have to say unequivocally in this case, yes. I only hope that everyone else who attended any of these dinners would be able to say the same. You just have to make the most out of whatever comes your way and we enjoyed every aspect of this dinner. I'm still savoring this experience even today.
My next post on this event will be on what "Slow Food" does beyond the sensory experience. I hope you will return for that post coming up shortly.