With hectic kitchens and relentless work hours to navigate, it’s not often a group of chefs get the chance to sit down together to eat. But last month, 25 acclaimed London chefs took some time out to talk Slow Food over a meal of seasonal quality British products, and discuss how they could encourage households across the isles to cook what they believe to be the best local food in terms of taste, health and regional sustainability.
The chefs had gathered for the launch of the new Slow Food UK Chef Alliance, a project to recognize those in their field who share and champion Slow Food’s vision and to use their voice to spread the message that food should taste great, be produced in an environmentally sustainable way and that producers should be paid a fair wage.
Spokesperson for the Alliance Richard Corrigan was raised in Ireland in a farming family that grew, fished and hunted much of the food that came to the table. He believes it is vital for chefs to come together and support artisan suppliers, commenting that: “Food should reflect both who we are and where we are… Back in the day when produce wasn’t from France it wasn’t good. But today things are so much better and we have incredible suppliers on our isles”.
Chefs who join the Slow Food UK Chef Alliance pledge to actively support Slow Food and to use local, sustainable food on their menus. The power of chefs as motivators in changing the way we eat has been highlighted recently with the successful work of famous chefs such as Jamie Oliver. But all cooks and chefs can play an important role in helping shape the approach of individuals, communities and nations to food, as is being demonstrated by existing Slow Food networks and their involvement in campaigns and projects.
Slow Food Italy’s Alliance was formed in 2009 to bring together cooks with Italian Presidia projects. Around 270 osterias and restaurants across the peninsula have joined, showing their commitment to local quality produce by featuring Slow Food Presidia products in their cooking and the producers on their menus, and supporting Presidia worldwide through annual fundraising events.
At the global level, the Terra Madre Cooks network was launched by an impressive gathering of 1,000 chefs at the 2006 meeting. From acclaimed restaurant chefs to cafeteria cooks to village café operators, each is dedicated to the growth of sustainable food communities, using local produce creatively to express the region and connect consumers with it, and organizing countless dinners and activities to further their role.
Chefs also have a very influential voice when it comes to public campaigns, such as Slow Food Istanbul’s recent success in the fight to save the lufer fish. When it became clear that the fish was being fished to extinction, a group of well-known chefs stood up as campaign spokespersons, their faces and messages adorning posters across the city, and the public and media followed them.
The UK Chef Alliance will be launched regionally over the coming months in partnership with Highland Park whisky. All restaurants are welcome to join, but the chef must be a member of the local Slow Food convivium and pledge to use local sustainable produce and Ark of Taste products.
For more information: www.slowfood.org.uk