Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Congratulation to Jane and Edwin

My gorgeous friend Jane has just become engaged to her Dutch boyfriend, Edwin. Jane left Melbourne in September this year to follow her heart to the land of wooden shoes. She is deliriously happy and I'm thrilled that she has found someone so wonderful.

Monday, October 30, 2006

She came, she saw, she ate

A journey of a lifetime – three days in the glorious city of Turin to eat, drink, taste, smell and indulge in all the delights of being a self-confessed foodie.

This has been a journey long in the planning, ever since I read about the Salone du Gusto and the Slow Food Movement several years ago. I admit that my descriptions leading up to my arrival in Turin have long verged on the religious. I have written and spoken to whoever would listen of this pilgrimage of the senses. Where else could you discover in the one place such a celebration of food cultures and traditions, regional produce and artisan food at its very best? .

Was I disappointed? No, it was one of the most extraordinarily events I have ever participated in. (Similar to the Tunick Spencer Melbourne photo shoot.) I return to London, committed to eating good food, supporting culinary arts and traditions and celebrating slowness.

So how or where to begin? Firstly, I need to describe the scale. Home to the Salone du Gusto for the last four days has been the Lingotto, the old Fiat factory and now convention centre in Turin. It is as you can imagine a large open space, which for the purposes of the Salone is divided into three major Pavilions.

The International Market as it is known is the showcase for over one hundred producers from German beer makers exhibiting together under the name of Slow birra to a consortium of producers from English, Scotland and Ireland as Food from Britain. Following your nose or stomach as it may be, you move to the Italian market – a series of food lanes with over 600 stores. Pavilion three is devoted to the Presidia and

Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
. The scale of this project dispels any thought that Slow Food is simply food-porn. The SFF assists producers to preserve threatened varieties of produce and food traditions such as that art of Italian black bread.

Slow food isn’t simply about regional food but preserving those traditions in a way that sustains cultural heritages. The same project also assists international producers from places as distant as Ecuador, Palestine, Brazil and India.

The scale was overwhelming as were the crowds. On Sunday, there was a crowd of 70,000 people – all eager, buying directly from producers, tasting food and discovering new things.

Day one
I arrive at midday and I spend the first hour walking around in circles. I’m not lost; I just have no idea what to do first.

The first store I am drawn to is Backstube Mack – an artisan bakery. The loaves are covered in seeds and herbs and the crowd around the stall indicates that the bread is good. It is. I want to buy a loaf but get swallowed by the crowd and pushed in the direction of the Food from Britain. Here I am reacquainted with the produce of the Scottish Larder– haggish, oat cakes, shortbreads. Duchy Originals is another popular stall, especially with the Italians, and I probably stay to long tasting the different short-breads.

Sampling becomes the theme of the day – sausages, cheese, bread, olives, chocolate. I simply follow the crowd – excited, overwhelming, eager. I walk without a plan except the real desire to discover everything.

I emerge from the International Pavilion into the Italian market. First stop is Via dei Dolci e degli spiriti (lane of sweets and spirits). The first thing I taste is pannatone – the pastry is a whisper of golden folds laced with fruit. The texture is so light and tastes nothing like the pannatone that I buy for Christmas. I am rapturous and try to speak my enthusiasm to the woman store-holder. There is so little left of my year ten Italian that I end up gesturing wildly with a wild look of pleasure on my face. I have always thought that the appreciation of food is an international language.

What astonishes me over and over again is the freshness of the produce. The sharpness, the clarity and I dare to say it - the fecundity of the produce. I appreciate with new awareness the Slow Food movement concern with food miles. I embrace the philosophy of knowing the origins of what you are eating – where it is grown, who grows it and how far has it travelled.

I also am held in rapture but the diversity of the cuisine – regional variations and again the artistry of the food. I feel like a child when I look in detail at the Sicilian desserts of Patisserie Alba – the prickly pears, peaches, and lemons, all shaped from marzipan look life-like.

Dark chocolate richly decorated with preserved lemons, pistachio nuts and lavender again speaks of the artistry of food making. The dark cocoa has the qualities of silk as I slowly savours it taste and texture. This is real chocolate, not the chocolate that has been tampered with – diluted and ruined by copious amounts of powdered milks and highly processed sugar.

Still in the via dei dolci, I am drawn to a store selling tartufo bianco – a hazelnut dessert, so rich and laced with the freshest of hazelnuts
I leave with a sample of coffee beans dipped in dark chocolate. I appear to have been here for hours.

Everything is alluring and ready to be sampled. I taste for the first time Pastiglie Profumate – a confectionary that looks like wedding confetti and comes in the flavours of violet, rose and aniseed as well as Confetti di Natalie that has the texture of coral and the taste of cinnamon.

Further along, I purchase a fig ball made from compressed figs wrapped in fig leaves. I’m sure I can make something from them at Christmas.

And finally, there is a cunessi di rhum A dessert that is so profane that I almost lose consciousness. I feel heady, start to swoon as I taste the rich complication of rum and a rich cream chocolate. It is a dessert “to lose yourself in”. I do. .

Overwhelmed, fatigued and feeling deliciously good I declare Day One a success and walk home to my hotel via Platti (but that’s another story).

More reports to follow,including eating and drinking in Turin

Sunday, October 22, 2006

All things slow

With the Salone du Gusto beginning next week, my mind has turned to all things slow.

Salone due Gusto is a four day global food village held every two years in Turin Italy. It is the stuff of dreams for any gastronome. Over four days, devotees of all things slow can savour, taste and contemplate their way through taste workshops, lectures and master classes celebrating food philosophies, tastes and ideas.

The salone is a highlight of the Slow Food calendar, a movement that started as a small gathering of friends and is now a global concern addressing issues of sustainability, regional cuisine and food traditions, education and biodiversity.

The highlight of the Salone du Gusto is the commercial produce market. A culinary journey that takes you from the Scottish larder to the sushi trains of Japan. Pavilion 1 is an international market place held in conjunction with branches of the Slow Food Movement. The ‘Buon Paese’ in Pavillion 2 is a taste journey through Italy. You can wander down lanes of oils, cheeses, sweets, cured meats, sweets and spirits as you would through a hillside Medieval town. Pavilion 3 is devoted to Slow Food Presidia and will feature 300 stalls selling products from across the globe from yak milk cheese made by monks from the Tibetan highlands to cured goat meat from Cyprus.In 2004, over 600 exhibitors from 80 countries participated in this event.

The theme of this year’s salone is "good, clean and fair" taken from Petrini’s book on the principles of a new gastronomy. In this Petrini’s response to the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Project, he sets the challenge of responsible gastronomy recognising the impact of eating upon the environment, agriculture and biodiversity. Good describes the sensory experience of food – tastes, memories, feelings. Clean is respecting ecosystems and the environment. Fair is about social justice.

For Petrini, gastronomy is not simply the appreciation of food and our cultural heritage but taking responsibility for food production and its impact upon ecosystems, biodiversity and the environment.

This year as the Salone du Gusto celebrates its tenth year it will be closely linked to Terra Madre, a meeting of international food communities, and the Ark of Taste, a catalogue of foods and produce under threat of extinction. Over 750 products currently form part of the Ark.

The best of British

It's a typical London Sunday - wet with pockets of sunshine. The suggestion of winter is all too great so I decide that the best thing to do is bake a crumble. It’s that warm comfort food that reminds you of childhood and speaks more about the seasonality of food that anything else.

I use the pick of the raspberries from the market and the new season’s apples. The recipe is simple – 6 large Cox apples and 250 g of raspberries. The crumble is made from flour, butter, orange juice with a sprinkling of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Cooked for 25 minutes. Simple, …well almost. I’m still getting used to the oven and I burn the top just slightly. The perfect excuse to have the crumble with cream.

A gourmet Saturday

The day began with a market and ended with a stroll through Notting hill and an expected find.

Nottinghill Farmer’s Market is in full swing despite the inclement weather and the early hour. It’s bustling. Dogs, children and parents armed with baskets and bags compete for space in the narrow aisles that separate the store holders. The fare is mostly organic – breads, game, meats, fruits and vegetables, and with most of the storeholders being regulars, its easy to get to know these local producers. Twelve Green Acres farm offers some of the best pork pies and organic and gluten free sausages. Pigeon breasts and mallards as well as pheasant pies can be brought from Manor House Farm. From the Muck and Magic Farm you can buy Suffock potatoes still covered in soil – the perfect companion with their Tamworth Pork or Norfolk Horn Lamb. You’ll also find Dave and Rose’s Hurdlebrook yogurt made from Guernsey A2 milk. This is slow food at its best – low food miles, local producers.

The organic fruit and vegetable store reveals a rare sight - boxes of organic Cox and Braeburn apples. Much has been made in the media of declining number of English orchards. You’ll be hard pressed to find British apples in local stores despite talk of supermarket campaigns to buy British. Local producers can’t compete with imported ones. Looking around the market, it’s clear that the seasons are changing. Most of the berries have gone, although there are a few punnets of raspberries and strawberries to be had, but it’s the new season’s vegetables like kale and leeks that everyone seems to be buying.

Baked goods seem the perfect choice on a day that has a crisp bite in the air. Celtic Bakeries offers traditional soda breads and I overhear that the Californian sourdough is today’s bread of choice. By 11.00 am only a few loaves are left. Dark Sugar Cakes with its sweet indulgences of blueberry and almond tarts, sacher tort and lemon and almond polenta cake are an favourite. The popular mushroom man is the only local missing from the market today. His mushroom baguettes filled with oyster mushrooms cooked as you wait with garlic, parsley and parmesan cheese are wonderfully good.

Being so close to Portobello Road, I can’t resist the temptation of do some antique shopping. It’s easy to be tempted. I feel oddly inclined to buy a silver teapot and partake of the English tradition of elevens. It’s the memory of Brasso (and elbow-grease) that stops me from buying one.

Feeling the need to escape the crowds, I disappear down Westbourne Crescent and into a Still Too Few- a curious antiques store. From the outside, it appears to specialise in glass but at the back is a woman who specialises in kitchenware. I pick up some old editions of Elizabeth David. It’s an odd synchronicity as at the far end of the store is David’s kitchen dresser brought at auction after her death. The dresser is solid and imposing and I can imagine it stacked with books, china, wooden spoon and utensils. In a newspaper article displayed to the left of the dresser is David photographed, the dresser behind her.

With David in mind, I head for Books for Cooks, the famed specialist bookstore. The sky decides to open and so I opt for a simple lunch inside – minestrone served with pesto and courgette and pesto bread. It’s a warming lunch, perfect on this now rainy day.