A slow look at food

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Only a few years ago the trendiest food to be found on a plate at the smartest eatery in town was something rare and expensive turned into foam. Now it seems the restaurant industry has done a U-turn, and dishes featuring natural flavours and textures are de rigeur.

Justin North’s Sydney restaurant Becasse has been consistently producing top quality food, according to both critics and punters, since it opened in 2001, and just this month he has released a book named after the popular establishment. The book demonstrates North’s passion for fine food along with his classic training, while also highlighting the importance of using quality ingredients in producing high-end cuisine. North visits producers in far flung locations around the country – including a salt processing plant near Mildura, a yabby farm near Perth, a truffle plantation in Tasmania and tuna fisheries off South Australia – and in doing so emphasises the importance of the relationship between growers, producers and chefs, and the trail from earth or sea to plate.

From North's point of view, it is worth it. North is at the vanguard of Australian cuisine, but his philosophy is grounded in age old traditions. 'It’s important to observe and respect the old, classical techniques that have been around for centuries,' says North, 'and then use them in a way that suits modern day food.'

This means keeping things light and fresh while emphasising the natural strengths of the ingredients used; not smothering them with additional flavours, but carefully using things like sauces, stocks, reductions and marinades to highlight the food’s natural taste.

'Some things you don’t need to do much to because they’ve got a beautiful natural taste,' he says, 'but there are other things that you need to work to bring out the intense, or true flavour. That can be through using different temperatures, marinating things or braising them, depending on what ingredients you’re using. And it comes down to not being lazy in the kitchen, and having a love and a passion for doing these things correctly.'

North is a Slow Food advocate. Slow Food began as an official 'movement' in Italy back in 1986, and has since spread its philosophical net wide, promoting several key ideas: the importance of maintaining old traditions in farming, agriculture and food preparation; preserving a strong relationship between producer and consumer; and the idea of sharing good food and good cheer. Originally founded as a response to increasingly industrialised methods of farming and food production, Slow Food’s influence has grown over the two decades. 

James Broadway is an owner of Melbourne’s Enoteca, and has been Councillor for the Australian branch of Slow Food for ten years. During that time he has observed Slow Food’s subtle shift of focus.

'Ten years ago there was a sense of Slow Food being a group of people coming together to celebrate special food,' he says, 'whereas now there’s a feeling that we have a real social responsibility to spread this philosophy of eco-gastronomy. Of course, good food is still very much a central aspect of what Slow Food is about, but education and communication of this idea of shared responsibility is very much a priority.'

There are over 80,000 members of the Slow Food movement globally, and nearly 2000 of those are in Australia. Members pay an annual fee ($90 for individuals and $110 for partner/family membership), a large percentage of which goes to support major projects and initiatives of the movement internationally, and to the publication of a magazine which is the movement’s main 'communication tool'. The remainder of the money supports the day-to-day running costs of the local branch, known as the Convivium. Positions such as Broadway’s are voluntary and unpaid.

Broadway points to Stephanie Alexander’s 'Kitchen Gardens' project as a good illustration of Slow Food Australia’s current focus. In the project, children from underprivileged backgrounds learn about growing produce and transforming it into food, and then sharing and eating it together. The idea behind this is to impart a sense of the importance of produce, and also the importance of taking the time to prepare and eat it together.

'We were surprised at how many of these children weren’t used to eating food in a sociable way,' says Broadway. 'They didn’t do it at home, so it was all new to them. We hope they become enthused by these traditions and apply them in their everyday lives.'

Through Slow Food, children who have grown up on a diet of fast food and junk learn about growing vegetables and other produce. At the same time, restaurant culture, in part influenced by the growing awareness of and adherence to Slow Food's principles, is moving from the one extreme of molecular gastronomy to the other - sustainable, sensible and self-aware 'eco-gastronomy'.

Links:
Slow Food Victoria
Slow Food NSW
Slow Food International

    

 

Recent articles by David Sutherland.

How to eat simply and well at the same time

 

 

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Existing comments

The ethics of household management of food for (mainly) mothers and the value of 'slow food' at home are of great interest to me. Mothers, with families at home, who work outside the home have to face many time and management issues around food and responsible parenting and 'eco-gastronomy'
Brenda Keogh
Brenda Keogh | 31 May 2006


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