Thursday, November 09, 2006

Terra Madre

Meeting of 1,000 chefs

After landing in Milan, I am greeted by a group of well-dressed Italians waving Terra Madre signs. They usher me alongside several other delegates towards buses that will take us to Turin. The buses gradually fill, and we are on our way. There is a lot of excitement as people exchange stories of where they are from and what they do. Different languages, jobs and personalities come out in colorful conversation.

I find it kind of funny that no one seems to know what will happen next. Where are they taking us? Will we get a chance to eat and shower or at least brush our teeth(!) before going to the conference? Then, I start to feel what I can only describe as the "European experience"... winding our way through small towns on narrow roads, tiny cars and motor scooters zooming past us, with the mountains in the distance becoming clearer and clearer.

Since the food on the flight left me unsatisfied (big surprise), while riding along I begin to day dream about the culinary wonders that the Salone del Gusto will have to offer. In case you don’t know this about me, I have a deep, deep love for all things pork. And I believe the act of making cured pork products is a true art form. I hear the Salone will have hundreds of small-scale meat producers from all over Europe. I picture a big giant buffet that is "all I can eat"! I drift off to a nice, proscuitto filled nap before arriving in Turin.

Turin, a sprawling city in the foot hills of the Alps, is located in the Piedmont region. Last winter, the city had a partial makeover because of the Olympic winter games. The conference is to be held in the Oval building of the Lingotto, the space housing the ice rink for the games. As we pull in to the parking lot, there is an incredible mass of people. 6000 people from all over the world will descend on this mountain city, not counting the security and volunteers. The president of the Italian Republic will speak at the opening ceremony, so we are told to we can’t bring in our luggage. There is a makeshift area up the hill set up for us to check our bags.

I find my way to the American delegation stand. They hand me my delegate badge and a pass for the Salone. You need your badge for everything at the conference. They also inform me that I have about 3 hours to kill before the opening ceremony. I of course, make my way over to the Salone.

I wander through the diverse gathering of people filling the huge complex as I make my way next door. The most impressive to me, though far from the largest, is the Kenyan delegation. From head to toe, they are dressed in their colorful traditional costume. And, they all have made sashes in the colors of their national flag, embroidered with "Terra Madre 2006". I guess what impresses me the most is how proud they are to be part of this meeting.

Ok, so the Salone… I don’t think anything could have really prepared me for the first time I walked in and found myself standing in the middle of this massive moving crowd. All the people maneuvering their way in to a stand to get a taste of whatever is offered, maneuvering their way back out, and repeating the process over and over again. It is like going to the Madison Farmer's market on a Saturday @ 8, the day of a Badger game. But this market is open and busy from 11am to 11pm and has sample tastes of cured meats, all sorts of artisan cheeses, delectable chocolate from around the world, Italian wines, aperitifs and digestifs, gelato, beer, fruit, vegetables, oils…

To put it into perspective of how big the Salone is, there are about 700 cheese makers alone, each with at least 2 if not 3 cheeses to sample and or buy! Needless to say, I was WAY overwhelmed. I managed to get a few bites of cheese, a slice of dried sausage and a cup of peach gelato before going back to the Oval for the opening ceremony. You'd be surprised how pushy those Italian ladies can be!

I run into Nate Berg from the Native Bay restaurant in Chippawa Falls and Bruce and his wife Joan Sherman from North Pond Café in Chicago. It was nice to see familiar faces after Salone-goers had their way with me. I meet some other restaurant folks, reppin' Chicago and California, everyone seeming equally overwhelmed. Gradually, everyone starts to get to know one another. People were genuinely interested in our restaurant, what it was like to take over after Odessa and how things were going for Traci and me. Everyone I met was supportive and happy for us, so that was a pretty good feeling.

After lunch it was time for the opening ceremony. We are welcomed with the singing of a choir of Italian women, all of them rice farmers, who belted out a few emotional hymns. Then, much like the Olympics, the flags of all the nations are marched in to the arena. 150 countries are represented at this world gathering. We are treated to speeches from Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, the President of the Italian Republic and from the most inspiring of them all, Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food and Terra Madre. Deservingly, he receives the largest ovations of the conference. Overcome with emotion, I lean over and whisper to Nate “How did we get here!?”. He responds, “We’re just a couple of good cooks from Wisconsin!”. Jet-lagged and happy, we kick back and enjoy the rest of the opening ceremony.

Terra Madre, Mother Earth. It is a conference of incredible importance in the forming, cultivation and preservation of food traditions from around the planet. I admit that on my way to Italy, all I could think of was getting to taste some amazing Italian delicacies (which I certainly got to do). But, what Terra Madre turned in to for me was an "all you can eat" buffet of knowledge, doled out to us from incredible minds like Carlo Petrini, Vandana Shiva, Alain Ducasse, Michael Pollen, Alice Waters, Harold Mcgee, Fritjof Copra, Ferran Adria, just to name a few.

It made me feel really proud to be doing what Traci, I and our staff do at L’Etoile and Cafe Soleil every day. That is, important work with real purpose, promoting sustainable farming and artisan cheese making. And then delivering these tasty ingredients to our guests the best way we know how. Yes, delicious promotion of a way of life that is in danger of being taken over by industry, rapid urbanization, and the consumerist mentality spreading quickly throughout our society.

If nothing else Slow Food and Terra Madre have inspired me to just continue doing what we do. To always know where our food is coming from and how it was treated during its life, to respect the ingredient and the farmer who grew it. I think that Madison is a great place to do this. We have such great resources to share with the rest of the state of Wisconsin, which has so many great things to share with the country. We have got a long way to go but I love being on board for the ride. We will get there Slowly, one delicious bite at a time.

I am going to leave you with a highlight of a dish that I was inspired to make on my trip. In Italy, the steaks are often fire grilled, served simply drizzled with olive oil, a little radicchio and a lemon wedge. You really get to taste the meat and I loved it.

So, I decided to make a hickory smoked and grilled Flat Iron steak from Fountain Prairie Farm. We are topping the dish with a little sylvetta (wild Italian arugula) from Shooting Star Farm and a little Stravecchio cheese (Wisconsin’s version of Parmesan Reggiano) and finishing it off with a little drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and a reduction of Balsamic vinegar. The Italians also make these great potatoes that are boiled and fried in olive oil and then tossed with a little chopped parsley. So, those had to make an appearance as the starch on the dish.

There it is, simple... great meat, cheese and arugula with light potatoes. I’d give you a recipe but it’s that easy. I love it! Try it at home or come in and have Mike Kwas, our wine director, pair it with a great Italian red. Either way, thanks for reading. Next up is the Thanksgiving dinner at the Beard house in New York. It is going to be a real wild trip so check out the Chef’s Corner for some “behind the scenes” action.

See you later- Chef Tory


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh la la!!!

1:31 PM  
Anonymous A big fan said...

Sounds terrific! We all appreciate the effort you put in, in our local Madison area championing the small farm, slow food cause.

See you at the Farmer's Market!

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Massimo said...


5:57 AM  

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