Last week, members of the Italian Alliance between chefs and Slow Food Presidia came together for two days for their first meeting, held in Tuscany at the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity’s regional headquarters. Over 100 producers from 60 Italian Slow Food Presidia and 73 chefs participated, including acclaimed chefs like Vittorio Fusari from Dispensa Pani e Vini in Lombardia and Massimo Bottura from Osteria Francescana in Modena.
The Alliance was formed in 2009 to bring together chefs with the Presidia projects: Participating osterias and restaurants commit to using local quality produce by featuring Slow Food Presidia products in their cooking and the producers on their menus.
“The Slow Food Presidia products represent an anomaly among the mass of standardized flavors, knowledge and distribution,” said the Slow Food Foundation president Piero Sardo. “When we started 12 years ago, we never thought that searching out these producers would result in such a strong network that today is highly valued by chefs and consumers. Chefs have an important role to play as frontrunners in the move towards better production systems and protecting regional foods and this meeting marks a great turning point. Innovation and tradition must travel on parallel tracks, not fight against each other.”
At the meeting the chefs and producers discussed the successes and challenges of their unique collaboration so far, covering issues such as distribution channels, supply methods, the role restaurants can play in local agricultural development and the promotion of biodiversity.
“We choose a food not just to eat well, but also to think well,” Fusari said. “Behind an ingredient is the story of a place and the producer. It is fundamental that cooks become the real communicators of their ingredients, communicating how they select producers and how they select the dishes they decide to put on their menus.”
Similarly, Massimo Bottura said chefs must continue to seek the products that are disappearing and to serve them to their customers, explaining to diners why it is so important to protect them by eating them.
“In the future I see chefs coming into the kitchen with hands dirty from the soil, from freshly milked milk, guided by their past and their memory, distilled with a critical, not nostalgic, interpretation, to bring the best of our past into the future,” said Bottura. “We are the real guardians of our culture. In the Lima Declaration, the open letter to tomorrow’s chefs, signed with other international chefs, we find the same principles that guide Slow Food’s philosophy – attention to small-scale producers and traditions.”
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