Take It Slow
Slow food is a strange phrase that seems to have taken on two separate definitions: it might mean a pot simmering for hours, or a movement of local organic consumers (ie. the opposite of fast food, get it?) Whatever your take, there's plenty of slow food to be had in Melbourne right now. And whether it's cooking or ethics, it's delicious.
Slow Food as a movement is credited to Italian Carlo Petrini. The story goes that the movement's original organisation, Arcigola, formed in 1986 to resist the opening of a McDonalds at the Spanish Steps in Rome. Arcigola members protested against big business and set their sights on preserving regional cuisine, made from local produce.
Come 2011, in Australia, and there's plenty of interest in local produce and both Jamie Oliver and Stephanie Alexander are intent on us growing our own food. Lucky for us, there's loads of amazing fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and wine made right here in Victoria. And if you don't want to get your hands dirty, there's probably a chef around the corner who's sourced the local produce for you and had your dinner on since a few hours before you rolled out of bed. Lou Pardi spoke with three local chefs on their approach to slow food.
NOSE TO TAIL
The Provincial in Fitzroy might look like an old pub from the outside but inside you'll find a refined dining room, some excellent food and a considerate chef. "I think that it is becoming more important for people to understand where their food comes from, and the customer wants to know that what they are eating has lived a good, healthy life. This adds to their enjoyment of the evening, in kind of a guilt-free eating style," says chef Paul Cooper.
As part of preparations for The Provincial's Slow Cooked dinner event on Thursday May 26, Cooper will be heading to the Macedon ranges to forage some mushrooms. The rest of the produce he's ordered from a network of local suppliers. You can be sure nothing will go to waste. "Part of my cooking style is to take a nose to tail approach to food, to utilise as much of the beast as possible, and to do it in a very tasty and refined style, and hopefully, show people what is possible with food," says Cooper.
Meats will range from Killara Rise Lamb and Greenvale Farm Wessex Saddleback Pork to Warialda Belted Galloway Beef and will be matched with wines from Tom Carson (Yabby Lake and Red Claw). "As the produce is all Victorian, a Victorian winery has been selected to accompany the food," says Cooper.
THE ITALIAN WAY
Across town at SUD, in Melbourne, chef Mark Taylor is doing Petrini proud with Italian cooking showcasing local ingredients to their fullest. "My cooking on the face of things is not modern at all," says Taylor. "What I say to the people I work next to is that the greatest compliment I could ever get is for someone to say, 'That tastes like Nonna's cooking.' That's what it's about. I'm an English boy so I'm not Italian, so I try and be respectful. My nanna was a chef and my mum was a chef, so I've always been brought up around food. My granddad was a fishmonger, so my Nan used to cook a lot of fish. It was about respect for the product. That's the dining experience I want to give - that people say, 'Ooh, that was nice.' They don't realise that there were 600 ingredients in it; it might just showcase two or three of them, but there's a lot of background and depth."
A staple on the SUD menu is locally farmed rabbit. "[I]t's one of the most popular items I can put on," says Taylor. "It's like the best free range chicken that you've ever had. Wild rabbits and hares can be a bit chewy because they can be a bit more gamey, but these ones are farmed and the texture is… they really just fall apart."
"I'm old fashioned; I work with fire and sharp things; I'm kind of primitive that way," jokes Taylor. But he's proud to take on the philosophy of slow food cooks past and present. "They know who grew it or they know the farmer. That's a major part of things. Food culture - it's respectful, the farmers respect the land. Look after your produce and it'll look after you. It really is about respect for your ingredients without being too caught up in them."
On yer bike
Anthony Hamilton-Smith, is chef at Long Play in Fitzroy on Tuesdays and quite frequently in the kitchen at CERES at the top of Brunswick. It's his own creation, The Slow Kitchen, which garners him most attention though. A visually satisfying feat of fine lines sat atop a trailer and coupled to a bike, The SlowKitchen is shadowed in awesomeness only by the gorgeous morsels prepared upon it.
Hamilton-Smith explains that part of the inspiration for the trailer is from the Shakers, aka The United Society Of Believers In Christ's Second Appearing, whose simple timber furniture designs are famous throughout the design community. "The kitchen trailer came out of the slow food thing, not just because of the idea of slow food, but utilising a method of construction which is based on Shaker furniture," says Hamilton-Smith. "I guess it's an ideal slow society, the whole Shaker thing. Then [we use] local timber like the hoop pine (which mostly makes up the frame) and carry it via bicycle, which looks at sustainability and slowness as well. Rather than having to drive something somewhere, you can enjoy getting from a to b, which is part of the whole slow philosophy. If you take every aspect of life and enjoy it to the full… it's quite poetic in its own way, I guess.
"It's very simple," he says of the trailer's functionality and design. "Just a propane bottle and a cast iron gas stove and the rest of it's all pretty much storage and bench space." Using just the two burners on The Slow Kitchen Hamilton-Smith can cater for up to 150 people, tapas-style. He generally uses local, organic produce - some of it even from his own garden. "I think people are starting to become more aware of where their food comes from, I guess with the advent of people like Jamie Oliver who are pushing it really hard."
Hankering for a slow cooked meal? Rug up and get out to one of these guys' kitchens, or seek out a local chef using local gear.
The Provincial Hotel's Slow Cooked Dinner
Four courses with matched wines - $79.
299 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
SUD Food & wine
219 King St, Melbourne
318 St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy
Tim: 0423 115 774
Adam: 0400 155 891
CERES Community Environment Park
Cnr Roberts and Stewart Streets, Brunswick East