Dappled sun danced through the trees overhead onto platters of appetizers, while groups of food enthusiasts oohed and ahhed as they tasted each little morsel.
“You can taste the love,” crooned one of the delegates to the first national Slow Food Conference to be held in the Okanagan, as they gathered at Claremont Ranch Organics in Lake Country Thursday for an orchard tour and tasting of local food and Crannog ales.
Prepared by local chef Giulio Piccioli of the Rotten Grape in Kelowna, each morsel was composed of food gathered within just a few miles of Matt and Molly Thurston’s farm, if not right at the farm itself.
Soft ripened goat cheese from Carmelis Cheese Artisans in Kelowna, rolled in crushed hazelnuts from the farm where they were served, dipped in a balsamic reduction prepared by Piccioli garnered rolled eyes and swoons from delegates, as did the apricot zabaglione made from Molly’s chickens’ eggs and frozen apricots picked last year from the farm.
The strawberry and rhubarb granita Piccioli made using strawberries picked last year on the farm and frozen by Molly.
He admitted it was a challenge to come up with food that would be local at this time of year, when the orchard is alive with bees in the blooms, but very short on actual ripe fruit, but he was reminded of how his family used to cook.
At this time of year, they enjoyed the fruits frozen and canned from the previous harvest, last year, potatoes and onions that had been kept in the root cellar over winter, and freshly-killed chickens.
So, that’s what he used.
He admits his inspiration for cooking comes not only from what’s fresh and local through every season of the year, but also from his memories of his mother’s kitchen in Italy.
It was that memory, and his longing for his mother’s good cooking, that drew him into first cooking his own meals and then becoming a chef here in Canada.
“There are amazing local products here. But food is about more than what you eat. It’s about memories. Having strawberries that had been frozen from last year’s garden reminded me of my mom’s cooking; it took me back to how people used to eat,” he commented.
It was before he learned about the existence of a Slow Food Movement that he began practicing what it’s all about: celebrating the pleasure of food; food that you know where it came from; that was grown and prepared with respect for the land and for the farmer, as well as for the consumer.
Slow Food is the opposite to fast food. It’s not about flying tomatoes in from Florida in winter, or about producing thousands of beef patties in another country to be frozen and shipped halfway around the world.
Ingrid Jarrett, president of the Thompson Okanagan Slow Food convivium and organizer of this year’s national convention being held this weekend in Osoyoos, says the response has been phenomenal.
They set a new record for the number of delegates attending a national convention in Canada, with a strong local following, as well as delegates from across the country. As well, both dinners that were opened to the public have sold out.
Between the meals, prepared by local chefs using local ingredients, delegates will compare the problems in each region across the country, of food policy, accessibility, transportation and climate, and likely discover that there are some similarities—and perhaps that some areas have come up with answers that could benefit others, says Jarrett.