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FESTIVAL

Massive ‘Slow Food’ Festival kicks off in Italy

One of the world's biggest gourmet food and wine fairs opens Thursday in Turin, with this year's edition taking its tasting sessions, workshops and street food parties to the streets for the first time.

Massive 'Slow Food' Festival kicks off in Italy
The Salone del Gusto in a previous year. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the north Italian city will be able to explore offerings from across the world at food trucks, on themed tours or at the Via del Gelato, while others work up an appetite at cinema screenings or debates.

The Salone del Gusto fair, which runs until September 26th, is organized by the Slow Food movement and Terra Madre network of food communities, and brings together some 7,000 delegates from 143 countries across five continents.

Slow Food, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, was founded in 1986 in the Turin region by food critic and sociologist Carlo Petrini in reaction to the opening of the first fast-food restaurants in Italy.

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

The association aims to educate the public on different tastes, defend biodiversity and promote a food production model that is respectful of the environment and cultural identities.

Today the movement has 100,000 members in 160 countries.

As well as cooking lessons and dinner dates, this year's fair offers dozens of taste workshops, where international dishes are paired with world class vintages, and an enormous market where visitors can meet farmers and artisans.

Horticulturalists will be on hand to offer would-be gardeners tips on starting their own vegetable patches as part of the Slow Food movement's drive to encourage as many people as possible to start growing their own food again.

The founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini. Photo: AFP

Russian identical twins Sergey and Ivan Berezutskiy, chefs who have taken Moscow by storm, will show off their modern take on pre-Soviet cuisine, while Xavier Pellicer from Barcelona transforms meat and fish into side dishes alongside a rich main of vegetables.

More than 900 exhibitors of gourmet specialities will also be present, along with 310 producers of traditional or endangered products protected by the Slow Food label, from Mexico's Serrano peppers to Peru's Amaranth flake.

“The most important battle for the future is the right to food for all, on the mitigation of climate change, protection of biodiversity, and man's relationship with food production and with the earth,” Petrini said before the fair opened.

“All together, with our everyday choices, we have an extraordinary potential”.

He said the movement aims to “mobilize the greatest number of people, to tell them what we do and involve them in what we do, because it's time for concrete action.”

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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