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When people ask what we do at Slow Food Columbus, one of the things I like to mention is our annual Shake the Hand That Feeds You dinner at Dick Jensen’s Flying J organic farm in Johnstown. The meal embodies the Slow Food ideal along many key dimensions:
- Community. New people often come expecting the sort of sit-down meal they’d get at a restaurant. They soon find themselves picking kale, helping to roast a pig, or making ice cream—and loving it. They cool off with a beer or a glass of wine that’s been provided by a local business here in the community… and may even have a chance to chat with the owners themselves.
- Quality. Chef Caskey and his team from Skillet Rustic Urban Food orchestrate an amazing meal made up of ingredients that couldn’t be fresher—on the vine in the early afternoon, on the plate by dinnertime, all of it held to strict organic standards. We don’t have menus for the event for one simple reason: the chef decided what to make when he arrived.
- Inclusiveness. Thanks to the generosity of Skillet, which closed for a busy weekend without asking for a cent, and of our community partners, and of all of the members and friends who chipped in, we were able to offer the dinner at a price that was competitive even with ordinary restaurant dinners—$40 per person for members—let alone with other farm-to-table dinners (we’re looking at you, Outstanding in the Field). Kids came too—the farm’s donkey in particular seemed to love playing with them.
I awoke this morning to a lot of buzz about Frank Bruni calling out Anthony Bourdain for Mr. Bourdain’s disparaging comments about Paula Deen (“Unsavory Culinary Elitism,” Op-Ed, New York Times, August 24). The nub of the argument is that elitism, not a genuine concern about unhealthiness, is driving Bourdain’s disparaging remarks. “When Deen fries a chicken,” Bruni writes, “many of us balk. When the Manhattan chefs David Chang or Andrew Carmellini do, we grovel for reservations and swoon over the homey exhilaration of it all.”
What bothers me about this characterization is that it’s easy to make and easy to believe. Bourdain is, after all, a foie-nibbling New Yorker, and Deen makes bacon-egg hamburgers with donuts for buns. The problem is, it’s probably too easy: accusing Bourdain of elitism is a great way to rile up a lot of people, but the reality is far more complicated. Read the rest of this entry »
Slow Food USA has rolled out its annual Day of Action, and it is one that’s near and dear to our hearts: the $5 Challenge. On September 17, Slow Food USA is asking its members to rise to the challenge of the value meal by cooking a Slow Food-friendly meal that costs no more than $5. Get together with friends, neighbors, or people you’ve never met over a meal. You can charge $5 at the door, make it a potluck, or donate the meal to Slow Food and take the tax writeoff. Regardless of how you do it, you’ll help us prove that good, clean, and fair food is something everyone can achieve.
And if you are willing to rise to the challenge, we want to meet you. We have a Board, we have senior members who have been with the chapter since the beginning (in some cases, before), we have members who are prominent in the community and have traveled internationally to learn and talk about Slow Food. If you are up to taking this challenge, we will do what we can do ensure that at least one of these people will come to your house and join you for dinner.
So go ahead. Four of you, five of you, ten, twenty… sign up and let’s show Slow Food USA what Central Ohio is made of. If you love the idea but aren’t sure you could make a $5 meal, sign up as a guest at a meal near you and find out how someone else does it. I’ve already signed up to attend the dinner of the first person who volunteered, Kristin K., and I’m looking forward to a great evening—starting with showing up early to help out in the kitchen, if she needs me.
Those of you who weren’t able to make it to Available Light Theater’s Food Play might be interested in a short film that they produced as part of the play on the subject of food deserts in Columbus:
(Hat tip to Todd at Local Matters for the heads-up.)
We had a great opportunity this weekend to meet Mr. Will Allen of Milwaukee’s Growing Power and to learn about, and discuss, the incredible work that he does. As is often the case, his visit has prompted a lot of discussion regarding some interrelated questions—food deserts, food access, health, and poverty foremost among them—that merit thoughtful attention.
One example that stands out, for its detail and for the expertise of its author, is a blog post by Wayne Shingler of Frijolito Farm. Mr. Shingler, unfortunately, couldn’t attend Mr. Allen’s keynote address because, as he puts it, “I’m so busy doing it that I don’t have time to go listen to somebody talk about it.” He does, however, take the time to lend us his perspective on the problem of food access and health in low-income neighborhoods, and we’re glad.
One question that’s worth asking is whether food deserts, and “food swamps,” are really a problem. Put more precisely, is diminished access to healthy food a primary cause of poor diet, obesity, and disease? Read the rest of this entry »
We just got ahold of the full menu for our upcoming event, An Offal Evening at Basi [tickets available here]. It confirmed our suspicion that the initial menu wasn’t quite telling the full story. So for those of you still on the fence, here’s the full menu, complete with notes on the wines:
An Offal Evening at Basi
Sauteed Monkfish Liver with sweet peas bacon and lavender
2007 Raventos I Blanc Brut Reserva Cava — Lush and rich but bright and minerally; from a 500 year old winery that has won many accolades.
Roasted Beef Bone Marrow with braised celery and blood orange gastrique
Fattori Recioto di Soave — On the sweet side, but with a savory note that adds complexity and depth and will work nicely with the marrow.
Braised Oxtail Ravioli with Medjool Dates and Parmesan broth
2008 La Palazzetta Rosso di Montalcino — 100% Sangiovese but with broader tannins, a richer frame and a supple mid-palate.
Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with asparagus, lemon confit and duck-egg hollandaise
2006 Joseph Voillot V.V. Volnay — Voillot was born in Volnay and will die in Volnay and in between is making some of the most inspired wines around.
Slow Poached Pork Cheek with caramelized onions, roasted brussell sprout and red verjus
2006 Domaine La Guintrandy Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan Cuvee Louise Amelie — This wine drinks way way beyond its price point and is one of the more interesting, complex and deep wines in the book, a foodie favorite.
Grilled Lamb Hearts with polenta, porcini mushroom, dried cherry and port wine
2006 Antano Sagrantino di Montefalco — Another super geeky option, this is big, broad, brawny, bold and earthy. Lots of fruit, lots of tannin, lots of everything. There are only 250 acres of Sagrantino growing in the entire world.
Dessert TBA (there has to be a little mystery…)
This evening marked our Slow Food Benefit: Local Pairings at Latitude 41 dinner, an extraordinary event in many ways. It brought together Chef Dave MacLennan, bartender Cris Dehlavi, and three stars of the “drink local” movement—Middle West Spirits, Brothers Drake Mead, and Rockmill Brewery. It also brought together nearly fifty guests, whose collective generosity dramatically increased our operating budget (membership fees all go to the national organization, and when it comes to most of our events, we put the “non” in “nonprofit”).
So, first and foremost, an immense and heartfelt “Thank you” to all involved. The generosity of spirit that everyone displayed at this event was humbling, heartwarming, and simply inspiring. The food and drinks were outstanding, and the company was first-rate from start to finish.
In fact, the pleasure of the meal was what unified these producers—indeed, what gave rise to our organization in the first place: though few now remember it, Slow Food was founded in Italy as “The International Movement for the Defense of and the Right to Pleasure.” That’s because its founders understood something very important: good, clean, and fair food tastes better, and the surest way to win the hearts and minds of consumers is to start with their taste buds. We could talk your ear off about good, clean, and fair food, believe us… but the most effective way for us to promote it is to hand you a fork or a glass, stand back, and watch your face light up with pleasure as you try it for yourself.
That’s the fundamental point that Middle West, Brothers Drake, Rockmill, and Latitude 41—not to mention Jeni’s and others—intuitively understand. That, more than anything else, is what brings them together. And that’s why, if you haven’t sampled their offerings, you’re depriving yourself of a real treat.
As we prepare for our upcoming Off the Menu dinner, An Offal Evening at Basi [tickets here], it occurs to me that it’s worth taking a moment to write a little bit about the connection between the dinner and the sustainable food movement. I’ve had occasion to reflect on that question recently, during a trip to Montreal that included dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, perhaps the hottest restaurant in the city. Au Pied de Cochon’s menu includes tongue, organs, a two-person pig’s head dish—in short, offal, and lots of it—and at the moment it’s the most popular restaurant in the city: if you don’t call two weeks ahead of time for a reservation, you might as well not even bother.
I realized, as I was reflecting on my dinner, that the things that make Au Pied de Cochon wildly popular would probably translate unusually well into the Columbus food scene:
- It’s really good. This is the key, of course: if you get people by their tongues, their hearts and minds will follow. But part of the reason that it’s good follows from the next point:
- It’s really economical. The cuts of meat that they’re using are far less expensive than most, so they can afford preparations (a five-hour braise, a time-intensive demiglace) that might be prohibitive under other circumstances.
- It’s very sustainable. While they don’t exactly use every part of the pig or the duck, they use a lot more than just a pork chop or a duck breast. The more of each animal you can use, the fewer animals you need to sustain the same population—it’s as simple as that. And when you’re as good at using lots of different parts as these guys are, everybody wins.
I summed up the experience by saying to my server, “I love what you’re doing because you’re making sustainability cool.” Her eyes lit up and she agreed immediately: “We used to have the pig’s head dish on the menu, and nobody would eat it. Now, people call ahead to make sure that it’s available!”
All too often, friends of the local food movement are stymied when it comes to the drink menu. Even though our favorite restaurants have incorporated local sourcing into everything from the appetizers to the desserts, it can be difficult to find a local wine, beer, or spirit on the menu.
So we were thrilled when Chef David MacLennan of Latitude 41 offered to put together a four-course dinner featuring not one but three local beverage producers: Middle West Spirits, Rockmill Brewery, and Brothers Drake Meadery. Chef David, whose dishes have won rave reviews from local foodies, will pair these producers’ vodka, ales, and mead—highlighted both individually and in original creations from cocktail artisan Cris Dehlavi of M—with a menu designed to show off their strengths.
That’s why it makes us so happy to be partnering with Latitude 41 and Chef Dave for this very special dinner, on Thursday, March 24. It will truly be a convivial and educational effort to bring together like-minded organizations and eaters who support each other—one that will underscore the importance and deliciousness of thinking, eating and drinking local.
But that’s not all! Latitude 41 has put together a dynamite list of live auction items:
- a day at Middle West learning to make vodka (and a signed vodka bottle from Brady and Ryan);
– 4 of Matt’s beers from Rockmill, and an extra bottle of Middle West Spirits whiskey-barrel-aged tripel ale (not yet available on the market);
– a tasting with Matt at his farm, with food made by Chef David;
– a private tasting, tour, and Mead 101 session with the Brothers Drake; and
– use of the Brothers Drake event space for up to four hours for as many as 100 people—all proceeds to go to Slow Food Columbus.
Latitude 41 • 50 North 3rd Street, Columbus • Thursday, March 24; 6–7pm cash bar, 7pm dinner • $65 per person + tax/gratuity
Rick and Krista Lopez have had quite a bit of experience with Italian food. So we were pretty certain, when they opened Knead Urban Diner on High Street last year, that Italian influences wouldn’t take long to start sneaking onto the menu.
And when Rick mentioned plans for a wine dinner with an authentically Italian theme, we knew a great opportunity when we saw it.
Our Off the Menu series is meant to recognize the responsibility that consumers have for what appears on restaurant menus by giving chefs the opportunity to cook what they most want to cook—whether it’s authentic, experimental, or outrageous—for one night, without fear that it won’t find any takers. Our goal is to show the city what they can do… and show the city’s consumers what they’re missing.
On this occasion, Rick and Krista obliged us with a terrific menu: five courses, each paired with an indigenous wine, and a glass of sparkling wine to start. They worked with Dan Frey of Solera Imports to come up with the wine pairings, which ranged from good to terrific: the Felsina I Sistri had a remarkable minerality to it, and the Vin Santo, which surprised us with a terrific nose, paired beautifully with the panna cotta.
But we’re getting ahead. The dinner started with a traditional fritto misto, impressively light and refreshing, and then moved to what was almost without exception the favorite dish of the night: the house-made duck and foie gras sausage with kumquat marmalade, buckwheat polenta and shiitakes. The richness of the sausage was balanced by the sweet bite of the kumquat and the savory polenta and shiitakes. This was a marquee dish, the sort of food that a restaurant could become known for, and that, years down the line, a chef could come to hate because the customers would never let him take it off the menu.
Next up was an impressive technical achievement, a single raviolino with a liquid egg yolk inside, served with house-cured guanciale (jowl bacon), kale, and parmesan. Each piece of pasta had been made by hand, the yolks carefully slipped inside and the whole thing cooked gently enough to leave the yolk liquid when the diner’s fork punctured the pasta. If that description makes you hungry… it should.
After that came… the porchetta.
Aptly described by Krista as being “like a turducken, except it’s pig wrapped around pig wrapped around pig,” the porchetta was a boneless pork roast wrapped around sausage and braised fennel. Served over lentils, it was succulent and delicious.
The evening’s final act was in some ways the most impressive: a goat’s milk panna cotta with figs, drizzled with Mockingbird Meadows’ Cafe Brioso-coffee-infused honey. It sounded good. It was great. The combination of flavors was complex, slightly off-balance in precisely the right way, and tight—really an impressive dish.
The most authentically Italian part of the evening, however, was the host and hostess. On a Saturday night, when many restaurants would be focused on turning tables as quickly and discreetly as possible, they closed for regular business. We started dining at 7 p.m., the courses came out gradually enough that we never felt overly full, and by the end of the meal the chef had come out to join us. The last of the diners stayed until after midnight. When we traveled in Italy this was precisely the sort of hospitality that we encountered, and we regretted that the pace of life in the US had kept us from finding it here. It was truly delightful to experience it again.
That may explain why one of our members, Sarah Khatcherian, a trained soprano and voice instructor, was moved to burst into an impromptu aria at the conclusion of the meal:
We know exactly how she felt.
(Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Mike Beaumont, Spacejunk Media, with the exception of the first mediocre cellphone shot of the menu, which will remain blameless.)