In the face of industrial agriculture and standardized diets, we need a Noah’s Ark of foods. One that protects the foods that make our cuisine so special: the ingredients that express the talents of our region. A treasure to carry forward for the future of our tastebuds and our countrysides.
Slow Food is a movement that began in Italy in 1989 to defend foods that are of high quality (in terms of taste), clean (in terms of respect for the environment) and fair trade (because all professionals in a supply chain deserve decent wages). Its deus ex machina: Carlo Petrini.
Legend has it that, one day, while Carlo was seated in a bistro in his native country south of Piedmont, he was disappointed by the taste of a typical local dish, la peperonata. Carlo didn’t blame the chef, since he had already had the opportunity to appreciate his savoir-faire on more than one occasion. However, the variety of peppers that the recipe traditionally called for had disappeared from the market, replaced by peppers grown in Holland. Calibrated to a standard size, more stabilized and less expensive, they had just one flaw, but one that could not be ignored: they were flavorless.
Carlo realized that it would be pointless to protect traditional recipes if the ingredients that bring the authentic taste to a dish are lost. In the face of industrial agriculture and standardized foods, we need a Noah’s Ark of foods. One that protects the foods that make our cuisine so special: the ingredients that express the talents of our territory and are intrinsic to the local culture. These treasures need protection, not just for nostalgic reasons, but rather to ensure the future of our tastebuds and countrysides.
Launched in 1996, the Ark of Taste has brought aboard 5,555 products from 150 different countries. They include breeds of animals, varieties of heirloom vegetables or plants, and transformed products of small-scale expertise. Examples are Cynamoka Berry in Canada, Pitanga in Argentina and Alentejana cattle breed in Portugal. Today, these products have an extra level of support from Relais & Châteaux chefs: Carmen Ingham of Wickaninnish, Manuel Agrelo of Awasi Iguazu and Rodrigo Madeira of Herdade Malhadinha Nova, respectively.
Since the Ark of Taste’s objective is to protect edible biodiversity, it has always been destined to cross paths with Relais & Châteaux, whose Vision is to protect the world’s cuisines, to share a passion for all that is good and beautiful, and to work towards a more humane world. As early as 2016, Relais & Châteaux partnered with Slow Food to identify the endangered foods of France. Thanks to Relais & Châteaux, the number of passengers aboard the Ark at the time had tripled within a few months, and a book had emerged: Le Grand Guide Slow Food des produits du terroir français (published by Plume de Carotte).
2021 is the fourth consecutive year that Relais & Châteaux is participating in Food for Change, the Slow Food campaign that recognizes food and our dietary habits as central to the global transformation required to fight climate change. For this project, more than one hundred Relais & Châteaux chefs from 32 countries across the world are getting involved to nominate more endangered, local foods to the Ark of Taste.
Among the many nominations received, Slow Food has approved 78 products proposed by Relais & Châteaux members in 28 countries. The nominations had to undergo a strict evaluation process through 20 technical committees, Slow Food’s Content and Projects Hub and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo before being approved to the Ark of Taste.
From 7 to 10 October, the Relais & Châteaux chefs will raise awareness about the foods that they have nominated, explaining how to protect and prepare these ingredients. We will soon share some of those stories.
Epilogue: The peperone quadrato of Asti – that famous pepper essential for any peperonata worthy of the name – has been restored to the fields and tables of the south of Piedmont.