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The global importance of Slow Food — the food activism movement that was born in Italy in 1986 — continues to spread. Its South Korean chapter — in collaboration with the city of Namyangju and Slow Food International — recently staged an ambitious and highly successful event, AsiO Gusto, the first of its kind to be held in Asia. The impressively organized festival hosted 500,000 visitors over six days.
“Our goal was to gather over 400 artisan food producers and cooks from 40 countries within Asia and Oceania under one roof, to celebrate their diversity and to spread the word about the many unique foods we have in Korea,” says Kim Byung-soo, a member of Slow Food’s International Council and one of AsiO Gusto’s main organizers.
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AsiO Gusto (the capital “O” stands for Oceania) took over a large, modern youth sports center on the outskirts of Namyangju, a city southwest of Seoul that is home to the world’s first organic agriculture museum. Three vast tents pitched on pristine artificial turf pitches formed the nucleus of the show. Each pavilion had a subject: South Korea’s featured more than 100 Korean products, including fermented, eco-friendly and local foods. The International Pavilion focused on foods from 32 Asian and Oceanic countries, including marvelous dried fruits from Afghanistan; Rimbàs black pepper from Malaysia; Palestinian olive oil; Nagasaki yuko vinegar from Japan; Indonesian coconut sugar; Tibetan plateau cheese; heirloom rice from the Philippines; raisins from Iran; Georgian wine and taro and yam from New Caledonia. It also housed six international restaurants and a taste workshop. The “Theme” Pavilion showcased some of Slow Food’s most important projects — the Ark of Taste, Presidium seeds and A 1,000 Gardens in Africa — as well as South Korean temple food and local Slow Food educational activities.
Outside, a large, lively area was given over to street-food stalls from South Korea and beyond: vendors cooked everything from barbecued pork and griddled mung-bean pancakes — made from freshly stone-ground soaked beans — to ash-roasted soya beans and Indian naan breads baked on the spot for thousands of visitors exploring the festival’s “streets.”
An organic vegetable garden was grown on the site, with neat rows of rice, amaranth, squashes and beans on display for the thousands of schoolchildren who visited the fair to learn from. They were also encouraged to enter a walk-in beehive — though not before they’d been covered from head to toe in protective netting; their anxious mothers waited outside until they re-emerged, sting-free. A jovial South Korean farmer made narrow baskets for holding hen’s eggs from rice straw, and used his docile brown cow to give children rides on a converted plow.
Elsewhere, in a gym-turned-hall, visitors attended authoritative conferences on the culture of fermented food, animal welfare and food justice; or witnessed the Korean tea ceremony enacted like a synchronized dance by seven beautifully groomed women in long, traditional dresses, accompanied by their distinctive songs. Music is ever-present in South Korea, from the national passion for karaoke to the lively displays put on during the festival by entertainers from the South Korean armed forces who sang everything from pop to opera and even performed magic tricks on the baseball field where families picnicked and rested in the shade of gazebos.
Buddhist monks’ temple cuisine
One of the most fascinating Korean stands was dedicated to the temple cuisine of the country’s Buddhist monks. Under the discerning eye of the Venerable Dae Ahn, this display showed the remarkable diversity of natural foods — cultivated and wild — the monks eat during the year. Their diet is meat, fish and dairy free, and also avoids foods from the onion family (they’re considered too “hot”). Yet the range of fresh and fermented foods the monks enjoy is impressive.
“In our Buddhist practice, we learn how to cultivate and cook our food,” says Dae Ahn, who also runs the Balwoo temple food restaurant in Seoul. “It’s a central part of our daily lives and is connected to our philosophy of harmony and patience. After all, nothing could be slower than the fermented foods — some of them aged for up to 20 years — that we use to complement our fresh, seasonal ingredients.” The monks also make use of hundreds of wild foods, including pine needles, lotus root, burdock, mushrooms, ginko nuts and acorn jelly. “Our lives, livelihoods and the entire universe change according to what we eat,” she says.
Fermented foods still integral to Korean cuisine
Fermented food is a staple of Korean cuisine and was at the festival in all its guises. Fermented ingredients range from soy sauces to bean and chili pastes (doenjang and gochujang) and kimchi. Best-known as a fermented cabbage dish enlivened with ginger, chili and garlic, kimchi can be made from dozens of vegetables and plants. Traditionally, each farm or household stored its fermenting foods outdoors in large, dark brown ceramic jars. Many still do. Kimchi is served at every Korean meal as a side dish and digestive aid. Fermentation was an important way to preserve perishable ingredients in pre-refrigeration times. These foods are still key elements of the country’s rich food culture.
As with all Slow Food events, the message goes well beyond the simple enjoyment of food to learning about its myriad cultures and sources, and to defending our right to food that is good, clean and fair, as Carlo Petrini, the movement’s founder, maintains. For a first-time visitor to South Korea, AsiO Gusto offered a stimulating chance to experience Korea’s complex, delicious foods and to feel closer to the many heroic artisan food producers from Asia and Oceania who attended it. For anyone interested in attending, the next AsiO Gusto is already being planned for 2015.
Top photo: A young girl studies the Buddhist temple food display at AsiO Gusto. Credit: Carla Capalbo
Throughout the winemaking areas of the republic of Georgia, the qvevri — large clay vessels like giant amphors — are being readied for the new grape harvest. This fascinating country, nestled between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, has the world’s oldest winemaking tradition: Wine has been made there for 8,000 years. And it’s always been made in clay pots buried in the ground. (Versions of it were adopted in ancient Rome and Greece.)
What’s exciting, too, is that the Georgian method is now being used in several countries in Europe and beyond by a few passionate organic and biodynamic winemakers wanting to make what are being called “natural” wines. Indeed, I was first introduced to these huge clay pots in northeastern Italy, in the cellars of Josko Gravner. Gravner was the first non-Georgian winemaker to bring both the method and the Georgian qvevris to Italy. (He calls them anfore, or amphors, though strictly speaking amphors were used in the ancient world to transport wine, whereas the large immobile qvevri are used to make it in.)
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Recently, I attended the International Qvevri Symposium in the handsome Georgian capital city, Tbilisi. The symposium showcases Georgia’s top wineries, including those that make wine in European-style barrels using international varieties. I was keen to learn more about the qvevri and their wines. A few are available in Europe, but this was a rare opportunity to find almost 20 professional qvevri producers — including two monasteries — gathered under one roof.
One of them was John Wurdeman, an American who has long been based in Georgia. As well as being an enthusiastic expert about all things Georgian — he sings in a marvelous polyphonic choir there — Wurdeman has set up one of the country’s most dynamic wineries, Pheasant’s Tears. I spoke to him on his stand at the symposium, and again a few days later as we toured his vineyards near his home in Sighnaghi, in the Khaketi region of eastern Georgia.
“Qvevri are like large coil pots with conical bottoms that are made by hand and fired in walk-in kilns by one of only five master potters who now remain,” he explains. “They are then buried in the ground — usually inside a cellar, but sometimes outside, too — and can range in size from 100 to 4,000 litres (26 to 1,056 gallons) in capacity.”
Cellars containing qvevri are disconcerting at first for those of us used to visiting rooms filled with vats and barrels. They seem empty, with just the qvevris’ round “necks” protruding from below. Yet the volumes of liquid being stored in the vessels underground give these cellars a very special atmosphere. They may seem empty, but one senses the presence of the wine below.
“Packing the qvevri in sand gives the wines stability, but the winemaking method differs, too,” he continues as we stand in his cellar overlooking the vineyards. “Clay is porous, so before the qvevri can receive the grapes, they need to be treated inside with hot beeswax. This goes deeply into the pores but does not completely seal the inside surface: a tiny bit of air needs to be able to breathe as the wines are being made.
“We crush our grapes lightly and put them into the qvevri, stems and all,” Wurdeman says. “This applies to both red and white grapes. The alcoholic fermentation gets underway within a few days, spontaneously, without the need for added yeasts.” Indeed, the qvevri cellars host wild yeasts in the same way that some caves help to ripen cheeses.
“That fermentation lasts for between two to four weeks. We punch the cap down twice a day during this period until it falls. Then, if the grapes are white, we leave the wine on its skins and stems. The red wines are handled differently: they’re taken off the skins and stems and transferred to another qvevri. Both types of wine are then loosely covered with a stone — again, to allow a tiny bit of air to enter. The malolactic, or secondary, fermentation begins spontaneously within a few weeks. When the malolactic is finished, the qvevri are sealed more tightly using a wooden lid and more beeswax, and a heavy stone is placed on top.
“That’s it until spring, when the earth’s temperature begins to warm. At that point the wines are racked: pumped out into bottles or into a clean qvevri, leaving behind the lees and any other sediment that has fallen into the vessels’ narrow, pointed bottoms.”
Georgian wine’s natural development
The qvevri’s stable temperature allows for a very slow, steady fermentation. Once the wine has been sealed into its home, the winemakers can’t — and don’t want to — interfere with its natural development.
“Everything depends on the quality of the grapes,” he adds. “We don’t use any of the chemical ‘correctors’ that many wineries resort to if problems occur during winemaking. This is how it’s always been done in Georgia, and the results are proof of how successful the method is. The white wines are particularly impressive: Deep amber in colour, they acquire as many tannins and polyphenols as red wines.
“The whites do acquire fragrance and an earthy body that makes them a perfect match for the diversity of Georgian food,” Wurdeman says as we sample a glass of his remarkable Rkatsiteli, an amber wine that hints at spice and honey in the nose, yet leaves the palate refreshed and dry.
This red-stemmed white grape is just one of dozens of native grape varieties the Georgians are working with that offer an exciting future for those wanting to discover winemaking’s ancient past.
Top photo: John Wurdeman at Pheasant’s Tears winery with a large qvevri. Credit: Carla Capalbo
It takes guts to pitch a blood-red circus tent on the fringe of Copenhagen for the MAD Symposium and fill it with 600 food professionals — including cutting-edge chefs, food activists, farmers, foragers and butchers. But then, pioneering chef René Redzepi could never be accused of lacking guts. His radical restaurant, Noma, topped global charts for daring to break with French colonisation, and for establishing in its stead a self-reliance on Nordic ingredients and fresh cooking methods that triggered the so-called Nordic food revolution.
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In Danish, “mad” means food. For the third MAD Symposium, Redzepi was host to a colorful cast of culinary characters with guest curators David Chang of Momofuku and Chris Ying — editor of Chang’s Lucky Peach magazine — and with the help of Ali Kurshat Altinsoy and Peter Kreiner. Speakers came from as far away as Australia, Brazil and California to inspire, inform, provoke and entertain the mostly young, international audience.
“We want to create a forum for the kinds of actions and ideas in food that no one else dares to tell or do,” Redzepi says. “The theme of the symposium this year was guts, in all its forms, and our speakers approached the subject from every angle: the natural, the social, the environmental, the emotional, the culinary and the slightly insane.”
“Having guts is a moral currency encompassing courage, ambition, fearlessness and, sometimes, stupidity,” Chang said in his emotional introduction to the event. “In my case, it meant taking a leap of faith to start a restaurant — without leaving anything for the swim back home.” Chang is now one of the most successful chefs in the U.S.
The tone was set by the first speaker, Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini, who stepped into the ring beside a just-slaughtered pig that had been strung up at centerstage, its head still dripping ruby blood. With the precision of a surgeon, Cecchini delicately sliced open the animal’s belly and pulled out its still-warm, glistening guts. “I’m proud to be from a family of village butchers,” he said as he worked. “We’re the ones who resolve the terrible dilemma of killing animals to feed our communities. In ancient times, it was priests who practised this art. We must be conscientious, responsible carnivores by giving our animals good, long lives and butchering them with respect. Mine is a hard trade, but it’s necessary.” He finished his presentation by giving a passionate recitation of Paola and Francesco’s song of love from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” He got a standing ovation.
The ever-inspiring Indian food activist Vandana Shiva gave many of the audience’s younger members their first taste of what it means to fight for sustainable agriculture. “In 1987, I had a gut sense I should start saving indigenous seeds in reaction to the spread of sterile, genetically modified seeds produced by the chemical giants who had given us war chemicals,” Dr. Shiva began. “They boasted that by the year 2000 they would control all our seeds and foods. I analyzed that something had to be done.”
Since then her organization, Navdanya, has set up more than 100 community seed banks across India to preserve native varieties and has fought seed patenting and what she calls “the mono-culture of the mind.” “The good, natural bacteria in our guts are being killed off by the saturation of pesticides, weed-killers and antibiotics in our food chain,” she continued. “Only indigenous agriculture can restore the biodiversity and balance we need to survive.”
Roy Choi, the Korean-American chef from Los Angeles, touched a raw nerve with his exciting account — part story, part rap — of fighting the city’s “staggering poverty and hunger crisis.” “L.A.’s rich areas have the country’s most diverse farmers markets, but in the poor areas there’s just nowhere to buy fresh produce and most of the food you can find is discarded, expired, inedible or junk,” he began as he showed photos of desolate convenience stores in South Los Angeles. When Choi started sending out his Kogi food trucks to sell fusion cuisine on random corners, he was surprised by the response. “We’d Twitter our location and within minutes, crowds of hungry people would be standing in line for our Korean-Mexican tacos. I really believe some value has to be placed back in the spiritual currency,” he said. “Do we have the guts to break this cycle of food poverty?”
Over two intense days, the MAD crowd heard from other inspirational chefs too. David Kinch, of Manresa in California, and his farmer, Cynthia Sandberg, showed how a creative chef can team up with a single-source vegetable provider to obtain grown-to-order produce. Pascal Barbot, of L’Astrance in Paris, gave a thrillingly high-energy talk about what it means to be a risk-taker in the kitchen by cooking “spontaneously,” adjusting and changing dishes in real time to suit his customers’ moods, needs and desires.
Christian Puglisi, of Relae in Copenhagen, graphically demonstrated how he established a successful all-organic restaurant with almost no funding, by moving into a cheap space in drug dealers’ territory and paring everything back to focus on the food. The street is now crime-free and thriving. Barbara Lynch, of Boston, told the picaresque story of how she became a chef, against all odds, trying to raise $2 million for a restaurant while living in a housing project, and learning to cook by reading cookbooks. “The only way is to be yourself, be honest and be fearless — you’ll need quenelles of steel!” she said, to delighted applause.
With more than 20 distinguished speakers on the rostrum, there isn’t enough space here to describe them all. But there is more information on the MAD site. And remember: To make a difference to your area’s food scene, all you need is guts.
Top photo: Exterior of the MAD Symposium site in Copenhagen. Credit: Carla Capalbo
The fastest, easiest and (in my opinion) most delicious summer pasta sauce is raw, takes 5 minutes to prepare, and only calls for three main ingredients: ripe, juicy tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. Oh, and — ideally — imported Italian spaghetti.
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Onto that base you can add whatever other flavors and ingredients you love and have at hand: garlic, scallions, chilies, capers, olives … even edible flowers, if you have any in the garden. Think of it as a diced tomato salad. Then toss it with hot spaghetti.
This is not a carefully measured type of sauce. Feel free to make and mix it as you wish. Just plan to have at least one medium tomato (about the size of an orange) for each person. I like to gather different kinds of tomato, from tiny cherry tomatoes to dark and colorful heritage varieties. The star should be the kind of tomatoes that are plentiful in the summer at farmers markets and in the garden: bright red and full of juice. And flavor. That’s the key to making this dish memorable.
Prepare the sauce about half an hour before you want to cook the pasta. It benefits from sitting for a short time so the flavors can marry well, but will lose some of its zing if it waits too long.
Here are my ingredients for pasta sauce for 4 people:
A good assortment of tomatoes.
A generous handful of fresh basil leaves.
A few sprigs each of other fresh herbs (I love to use tarragon, cilantro and chives plus a few leaves of fresh lovage and thyme).
A couple of minced garlic cloves.
Salt and freshly ground peppers.
Extra virgin olive oil, as good as you can get it.
Capers, preferably stored in salt.
Sliced olives of your choice.
A piece of fresh chili pepper.
A handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Here’s how to make it:
Rinse all of your ingredients well, especially if they’ve just been picked. Use a large mixing or serving bowl so you can add the hot spaghetti to the sauce and then serve it immediately.
Dice the tomatoes and slide them into the bowl with all of their juices. Chop the herbs roughly and stir them into the tomatoes. Add the minced garlic, if you are using it. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with a few tablespoons of oil, just as you would a salad. Add whatever other ingredients you fancy: rinsed salted capers, sliced olives and minced fresh chilies (this sauce can be hot or not).
A few minutes before you want to cook the pasta, bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil. (Never cook pasta in small pans with too little water or it will get gummy.) The spaghetti cooks fast, so get everyone to the table in time. As the Italians say: Pasta waits for no one!
Tip the steaming hot, drained al dente pasta into the sauce and start mixing. Stir in the cheese and serve. Wait for the applause!
Top photo: Garden-fresh tomatoes and herbs make the perfect summer pasta sauce. Credit: Carla Capalbo
It was a party in high style, held at the legendary Château Mouton Rothschild. To attend it, over 600 guests — including 350 international wine journalists — descended on the usually sleepy village of Pauillac, in the heart of the Médoc wine region, north of Bordeaux. They were dressed to the nines.
The opening press dinner of Vinexpo, the biennial international wine fair in Bordeaux, is hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at a different First Growth château each time. It’s a grand affair. This year’s was a double celebration: In addition to marking the start of the trade fair, at which wines from all over the world are sampled and sold, the historic winery was also launching its new vinification cellar, or cuvier. Designed by architect Bernard Mazières and designer Richard Peduzzi, with the help of the château’s dynamic director, Philippe Dhalluin, the cellar was years in the making.
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“It’s breathtaking! Anything Château Mouton Rothschild does sets a standard for the global wine world,” one Asian wine writer exclaimed admiringly as he took photos of the virtual cellar on his iPad. Inside, the real cellar revealed a restrained design of wood and stainless steel in which the precious grapes can now be transformed more efficiently into wine. It incorporates the most up-to-date vinification tanks and temperature-controlled technologies. Mouton Rothschild is one of the world’s most sought-after wines, with bottles of the iconic red wine going for very high prices: A bottle of the 2010 costs upward of 1,100 euros. Currently, between 200,000 and 300,000 bottles of the top wine and 40,000 bottles of the second wine, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild, are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes grown in the estate’s perfectly manicured vineyards.
The Mouton Rothschild legacy
Mouton Rothschild has long been a bastion both of winemaking and culture. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who hosted the party, is a modern-day arts patron, as was her late father, Baron Philippe. In 1945, he began commissioning a different modern artist each year to design a label for the château’s top wine, Château Mouton Rothschild. The tradition continues to this day, with an extraordinary range of artists who have produced the graphics for the top part of the label that has included Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons and Keith Haring. The labels are so beautiful they have become collectibles in their own right.
The new cellar provides a permanent space for a fascinating exhibition on the history of these labels, with a framed panel dedicated to each work that includes letters and sketches from the artists. This will be an extension to the château’s existing art collection, the Museum of Wine in Art. Here, sculptures, tapestries and paintings from many eras celebrate the importance of wine in each culture. Visits are possible to the château and its exhibitions, by appointment.
The sit-down dinner included a delicious cheese soufflé — quite a catering feat for 600 guests! — and some remarkable wines from the Union’s châteaux. The most spectacular was the 1975 Mouton Rothschild, with its colourful Andy Warhol label, which was served from magnificent Imperial-sized bottles (holding 6 liters each, or the equivalent of 8 standard bottles). The bottles were carried into the dining room to a trumpet fanfare. The wine’s complexity, elegance and freshness are characteristics of the best wines of Bordeaux. It was a fitting way to launch the fair and confirm to the guests who had arrived from all over the world that Bordeaux is still actively at the heart of great wine and of great culture.
Top photo: Mouton Rothschild’s new vinification cellar is reflected in a giant mirror. Credit: Carla Capalbo
The cream of the culinary crème was in London to attend the annual San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards and find out whether Chef René Redzepi’s Noma could retain its title as world’s best restaurant for a fourth year (it couldn’t: the three Roca brothers, of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, knocked him off the throne into second place, while Italian chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana moved up to take third place).
Several special prizes were given out during the April awards ceremony, held in London’s magnificent medieval Guildhall, which rocked with loud music and pink lighting for the occasion. The prizes included the Sustainable Restaurant and Best Asian Chef awards to Tokyo’s Yoshihiro Narisawa; the Highest New Entry to Australian restaurant Attica; and the coveted Chef’s Choice Award to Grant Achatz.
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“Cooking is like art, it stirs the emotions,” she said as she smiled out across the sea of chefs and food professionals. “Like poetry and music, it creates a harmony of soul and mind. Food is the best way to meet and enjoy the world.” She also mentioned cooking’s need for team spirit: Since her marriage in 1974, Nadia Santini has cooked in her husband’s family’s restaurant alongside her mother-in-law, Bruna, who at 84 still helps with the daily food preparations. Antonio Santini, Nadia’s husband, runs the dining room and its outstanding wine cellar. Nadia Santini was first awarded three Michelin stars in 1996 and has retained them ever since, a record in Italy.
A few hours before the 50 Best dénouement, an intimate champagne lunch was hosted in Belgravia by Veuve Clicquot to honor Nadia Santini. It was held at Ametsa restaurant in the Halkin Hotel, across the street from Buckingham Palace. The clean-lined dining room overlooks a leafy garden and was a fitting setting for the meal’s modernist food. The restaurant, whose full name is Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, is under the guidance of Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter, Elena, of the award-winning Arzak restaurant in San Sebastián, Spain. They have entrusted the London kitchen to three chefs who worked at Arzak in San Sebastián.
Elena Arzak won the Best Female Chef award in 2012. I asked her whether we really need a separate award for female chefs today.
“There are two things,” she explained as we were served a signature Arzak dish of langoustines with crisp rice noodles and corn salsa that went beautifully with Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2004 — part of a flight of five rare Champagnes. “Madame Clicquot, who lived 200 years ago, was a pioneering business woman and innovative visionary before her time. So it’s an honor to receive an award in her name.” (The Champagne house also honors women in other fields of achievement: Their Business Woman Award this year went to architect Zaha Hadid).
“I’m Basque, and we live in a matriarchy where women have always been the mainstay of our families and society,” Elena Arzak continued. “Our restaurant, which opened in 1897, was in the hands of women cooks until my father took over in his generation. Most of our chefs are women, too.” Her father asked her advice about food and created dishes with her from an early age.
“I’ve been lucky to grow up in an environment in which women are respected even if they are sometimes behind the scenes, working as well as bringing up children. I cooked alongside my parents and never felt discriminated against because of my sex. I wish it could be the same for all women,” she said. “However, I am sure it’s just a question of time before there will be more young women in lists such as these.”
She was sitting across the table from just such a woman. Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava is a young Thai chef whose restaurant, Bo.lan is in Bangkok. She recently won the Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef in Asia award, when the 50 Best produced its first all-Asian list. Songvisava works with her husband, Dylan Jones, and features only locally sourced, seasonal produce in their menu.
“In Thailand, women are known to be great cooks, so it’s not hard for us to be accepted,” she said. “Perhaps the biggest difference between men and women is not their imagination but their strength, as professional kitchens can be very physically demanding.”
Nadia Santini agrees. “Cooking is hard work, but I’ve always been very happy to be in this profession. It’s important for women to express their own sensibilities and bring these differences to what is, after all, a universal love of food.”
Top photo: Chefs Elena Arzak (left), Nadia Santini and Bo Songvisava celebrate. Credit: Carla Capalbo