Slow Food Noosa step into the belly of the beast in Italy, to learn the innovative techniques reviving traditional methods.
Branches of crimson-coloured rosellas, clusters of macadamias, gourmet pies and produce and the freshest beef and pork to ever cross your lips; these are some of the regional delicacies that will be put on a silver platter in Italy, at the world’s largest food fair next month.
Slow food may be a relatively new concept for some, but it’s been around for nearly four decades, having originated in Italy in the 1980s at the Spanish Steps in Rome, where there was a peaceful demonstration on the site of a proposed fast food restaurant.
The initial aim was to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life, and the movement has since evolved to embrace a comprehensive approach to food that recognises the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture.
Slow Food Noosa is the largest and one of the oldest contingents in Australia, having been founded in Pomona in 2003 with five members, and has since grown to over 200 members.
Over the years, they have initiated several projects including the Slow Food School Garden Project in 2007 by then-president Matt Golinski, the Noosa Community Garden in Tewantin, and a sensory garden to support patients with dementia at Carramar.
Last year, they also launched Australia’s first Snail of Approval program, which Slow Food Noosa president Erika Hackett says has been based on similar programs operated by other Slow Food groups in Italy, Bali and America.
“Slow Food Noosa is about making people aware of what’s out there, introducing them to new things – connections are so important,” she says.
“What we’re doing in the community is letting our community and chefs know where they can go to source local products that are good, clean and fair – we’re so lucky that everything is here on our doorstep, we don’t have to go and order our food from Brisbane anymore, and we are always finding new farmers who are here.”
In fact, six of our region’s top producers and chefs are preparing to represent the Sunshine Coast as part of the Australian contingent at Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto in Turin, Italy; a biennial Slow Food event from 20-24 September, bringing together international producers, communities, chefs, and visitors in the celebration of good, clean and fair food. This year, the world’s food agrobiodiversity will be at the fore, discussing local and global challenges and solutions.
The delegates representing Slow Food Noosa include Melinda Murnane from Rhodavale Pork, Jodie Cameron from Barenuts Macadamias, Cecilia Diaz-Petersen from CC’s Kitchen and Petersen’s Farm, Karen Jarling from CGL Beef, Jodie Williams from Black Ant Gourmet, Kin Kin General Store and Mayan Farm, and Zeb Gilbert, co-owner and executive chef of The Wasabi Group.
“Jodie Williams and I will present two plates as a contingent from Australia, then we will be visiting lots of stalls and discovering local produce, which is the biggest thing for us, especially as we live in a local area and there are so many people visiting from around the world – Japan, Italy, Africa, Copenhagen, Iceland,” says Zeb.
“I’ve booked eight forums to attend and a dinner with Anna Ross, who was voted the best female chef in the world. For me, slow food is bigger than I thought it was, when we first joined Slow Food Noosa, I didn’t realise how big it was worldwide, but now I do; there will be 100,000 people there.”
Karen from CGL Beef says she was attracted to the slow food movement because it’s holding onto real ways of producing food.
“You might be very modern and cutting-edge but it’s still real food that hasn’t been produced to the nth degree and it’s available through your local community, it doesn’t have to be trucked halfway around the world,” she says.
In fact, Karen says her supply chain is as short as you can get – direct from her family farm in Glastonbury (west of Kin Kin) to your family.
While in Italy, Karen says she’s looking forward to delving into the topic of agrobiodiversity.
“They’re pushing more and more for farming to be a lot softer, industrial farming still has a long way to go of course and there will be people who do that, but as an example, there is some wonderful work being done in Western Australia, where they grow grain crops on a big scale; so to say this softer farming can’t be done on a big scale is not true,” she says.
“There is so much cutting-edge innovation coming to the fore now, it’s so exciting to think there is this ability to have massive change.”
Melinda from Rhodavale Pork grew up in a farming family and says she appreciates that slow food is supporting small farmers who are trying to preserve the traditional practices and ideals for the next generation.
“I always lived on farm, as kids we never went anywhere, I’ve never even been interstate let alone overseas. It’s very exciting to be going to Italy, but exciting from the point I can learn something; you get so tied to a farm and get stuck in your ways and yes you can use innovation, but it’s only through the extent of what you can think of,” she says.
“So to be able to go over there and experience Italy for what it is, it’s bringing people from all over the world together – we all do the same thing, we all live the same lifestyle, we all understand each other, it’s that like-mindedness, to be able to broaden that mindset and take on board lots of bits and pieces from everywhere and bring that home, that’s going to help no end with the business.”
Meanwhile, Jodie from Barenuts Macadamias north of Gympie says she’s always respected the Italians’ way of life and their passion for fresh food and is intrigued to see how the rest of the world cook with nuts.
Cecilia from CC’s Kitchen and Petersen’s Farm says she became inspired after seeing the amount of waste literally being thrown back into the paddock after their produce went market, because “no one wanted the second-grade stuff”.
Instead, Cecilia saved it and made it into preserves, and has become widely known for her rosella recipes.
“The concept of paddock-to-plate is something we live by on a daily basis, without me even knowing about the slow food movement; it was something we were doing and was in line with what I grew up with.”
She says going to Italy will allow her to put the humble rosella back in the limelight, on an international stage.
“It’s also about learning about the challenges other farmers are going through; what do they do to change, and how do they cope with the ever-increasing need for food? If we can learn and adapt our business and our farms, if we all put our energy together we will be much stronger,” she says.
Jodie from Black Ant Gourmet says after losing people close to her from modern diseases, realised that nutrition played an important role in correcting this rapid decline in health.
“Not all recent growing techniques have nutrition high on the agenda, this needs to change. Not all countries experience the same decline in health as our country and we need answers,” she says.
“By going to Italy, I know I will be introduced to a wide variety of foods, cultures, traditions and food production. We have the ability to then improve further on our own current practices, allowing us to also share this knowledge with our community.”
Placing themselves in the midst of this culinary change (700kms from where the first steps were taken in the Slow Food movement all those years ago) it is inspiring and I have no doubt it can only lead to new growth on their own turf.
Cover image: Zeb Gilbert