Italian Chefs Reach Out to Chilean Fishers

28 May 2011

The fishing community living on Robinson Crusoe Island felt nothing when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Chilean mainland on February 27, 2010. Part of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, the isolated island lies 700 km off the Chilean coast, on a different tectonic plate. But an hour later, at 4.30 am, a 21-meter-high tsunami struck the island as its inhabitants were sleeping.

“My house was hit, and I was in the water with all my family. But we survived. 16 people died,” said Marcelo Rossi, president of the archipelago’s fishing cooperative. With a population of just 850, the deaths had a huge impact on the island, and the series of waves also caused massive damage to fishing boats (65% of islanders are involved in lobster fishing) and destroyed many buildings, including hotels, restaurants, the town hall, the post office and the cemetery.

Rossi was in Italy this weekend for Slow Fish 2011, Slow Food’s sustainable seafood event, held at the Genoa Fiera from May 27-30. After the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity galvanized the Slow Food network to come to the aid of stricken Presidium producers in Chile. Chefs from Slow Food Italy’s Alliance project organized fundraising dinners and events, and the Fondazione Carige also contributed to the campaign through its project MareTerra Liguria. A total of €17,500 was raised, which will be divided between the Robinson Crusoe Island Seafood Presidium and the Blue-Egg Chicken Presidium.

The donation was presented to Rossi on Rai Radio 2’s program Decanter, broadcast live from Slow Fish on Saturday May 28. “We’re going to use the money to apply for government funding for which we have to provide the initial 10%,” said Rossi. The funds will be used to reconstruct facilities for the fishing cooperative, starting with a multifunctional center that will house an office and a restaurant. Galdino Zara, from the Osteria Da Paeto in Veneto, presented Rossi with a plaque from the osteria chefs that will hang on the wall of the new restaurant.

“We’re happy to receive the money, but it takes time to fully recover,” said Rossi. “When you’re at the limit, material things are not very important. It’s more psychological. Obviously after it happened we were very sad.” However, he said that being at Slow Fish was a positive experience. “It’s a good energy to keep working,” he said.

Rossi said that meeting with the Norwegian salt cod producers from the Møre og Romsdal Salt Cod Presidium had been particularly helpful, giving him new ideas about how fishers on nearby Alejandro Selkirk Island can preserve their catch. “Alejandro Selkirk just has a generator so there’s electricity only for four hours a day, so salting is a good thing to know.” The Chilean fishers have also learned about smoking fish from the Orbetello Botargo Presidium in Tuscany, a concrete example of the Slow Food network in action.

“We want to connect with other Presidia in the south of Chile, like merkén,” said Rossi. Merkén, a traditional mix of smoked chili and salt, was being used in a dish being presented at the Alliance Osteria at Slow Fish that day. The horse mackerel served with bell peppers and a merkén-spiced tomato sauce was prepared in collaboration with Antonio Terzano of Osteria Dentro le Mura, in Termoli, Molise. “It should have been smoked amberjack,” said Rossi, “made using a new recipe we got from Orbetello. But we’re still having production problems, so we used a local fish instead.”

Though it took him many hours of travel to reach Genoa from Robinson Crusoe Island, Rossi was happy he came: “It’s important to come here and feel the love and the charity and help us recover our soul.”

Find out more about the fundraising campaign:

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