Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January: A Short History of Pelham Slow Food

It has been five years now since the inaugural meeting of Pelham Slow Food.  The Convivium was formed under the enthusiastic and determined leadership of Renée Girard when the initial group of five fans of fair, clean, good food met at de la terre bakery and café on South Pelham St. in Fonthill.  I first met Renée shortly after that initial meeting, at a tasting of Spanish ham and cheese at Niagara College when she was introduced by one of the chef professors as the president of the Pelham Slow Food group.  Like most people who first encounter Slow Food, I thought it was devoted to taking your time while cooking… a concept I was entirely in favour of, so I introduced myself.
Since then, I have learned that Slow Food is not about cooking slowly, but rather a reaction against everything that “fast food” stands for: food that is cleanly produced, fairly paid for, wholesome, and served in pleasant, convivial surroundings… and, yes, you probably should take your time when cooking it.  Organized into “Convivia,” the movement is now represented in more than 150 countries and has the support of more than 100,000 members.
Renée’s idea for the Pelham Convivium was to bring together a few people who support the principles of the movement for events that nourished their ideas about food, and, not incidentally, provided delicious nourishment as well in the form of potluck suppers.  In addition, we supported the principles of the movement by buying suitable books for the Pelham library, helping a Cuban Convivium with a cash donation, and working with a group home to teach disadvantaged young people the joys of gardening.  Wherever possible, we promoted the ideals of Slow Food in the community and beyond… an effort that resulted in the first “Snail’s Space” column in the Voice of Pelham, a string of columns that in December reached 60.
The potluck dinners in members’ homes, arranged thematically to celebrate the cuisine of a different nation each meeting, have become much anticipated quarterly events.  At least once a year, we also venture out to a Niagara restaurant for a specially prepared Slow Food dinner and enjoy the personal commentary and enthusiasm of the chef in each instance.  Ryan Shapiro at About Thyme in Vineland let us in on his “sous-vide” method of making delicious duck confit; Michael Olson of Benchmark at Niagara College set out a magnificent homestyle feast; David Watt of Zest provided his trademark mouthwatering creations , and most recently, John Cercone put on a feast at Da Vinci of Fenwick that celebrated the cuisine of his ancestral region of Abruzzi in eastern Italy.  We have enjoyed learning to make cassoulet (and stuffing ourselves with it), sampling the wines of Southbrook, le Clos Jordanne, Alvento, Stratus, and Lailey Vineyards at special tastings, and welcoming friends from across the region to our annual Featherstone lamb roast with our good friends David and Louise at Featherstone Winery.
Through the last five years, Renée has guided the group with enthusiasm and creativity.  A former restaurateur and food stylist, she is now a fulltime student at Brock, having returned to university to pursue her lifelong love of learning… especially about other cultures and, of course, food. Renée is stepping aside as President of our Convivium but remaining an active member, while Valerie Grabove takes over the reins.  She deserves enormous credit for having the vision to found a Slow Food group in Pelham, the determination to see it grow and expand, and the creativity to organize events that stimulated, educated, and satisfied on many levels.
For more information about Pelham Slow Food, contact Valerie at vgrabove@sympatico.ca

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