In today’s edition of the major Italian daily La Repubblica, Slow Food president Carlo Petrini recounts his first impressions of a book-signing tour that, from May 7-24, is offering him a veritable coast-to-coast overview of gastronomy in the USA. So far he has been pleased with what he has seen.
‘In the last few days, stuck in the New York traffic, trying not to be late for my various engagements, I often find myself thinking back to the week I’ve just spent on the west coast of the United States.’
California in particular comes to mind.
‘If you’re lucky enough to visit a restaurants or two, you can’t help note the almost manic tendency of chefs to tell you where the raw materials they use come from. Theirs isn’t just a generic commitment towards traceability. Menus and the talk of chefs and cooks themselves brim over with addresses, information about farms, names and addresses of farmers who have grown this or that vegetable or bred this or that animal breed.
That’s not all.
‘In Sonoma I even had the chance to eat a lunch prepared by four cooks who, after each course, introduced me to the people who had cultivated the ingredients.’
Petrini has some harsh words for his fellow countrymen.
‘It makes me smile when I think about the words of Italian friends of mine, members of the trade, who argue that a great chef can cook well with any raw material, that technique is fundamental and all the rest is never indispensable.’
He’s impressed by the new American model.
‘Here everything is the other way round. There’s a prevailing simplicity that seems designed to exalt the natural characteristics of vegetables, meat, fish and condiments, all prime quality, all local. This ‘alliance’ between cooks and farmers … has already reached such a peak that, nowadays it’s possible to speak in terms of an ‘Earth cuisine’, in which naturalness rules, together with origin and seasonality.’
Petrini praises the work of American farmers.
‘ Some supply top chefs but, at the same time, sell their produce to hospitals and offer a helping hand to school garden projects.’
He backs up the concept with an example.
‘One of my most memorable experiences was in the Sanchez school in a poor neighborhood San Francisco, where 90% of pupils are the children of Central and South American immigrants … Here there’s a well developed school garden project and it was exciting to be accompanied by a horde of noisy, cheerful kids among their tomatoes, broad beans, runner beans and flowers. Speaking in Spanish, they told me about what they were growing with a knowledge and pride that I found quite moving.’
‘The lesson to be learnt from the homeland of fast food is becoming ever more important. Respect for nature, proper flavor and social justice is moving forward slowly but very surely.’
Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair
by Carlo Petrini
262 pp, Rizzoli New York, US$22.50
Published May 8, 2007