“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”- Virginia WoolfSlow Food, despite the name, is a movement that has taken on quickly. Founded in 1989 by Carlo Retrini as an alternative to fast food, it has grown to be an international grassroots organization, working to counter popular culture’s fast food and fast lifestyle by preserving local cuisine, farming, and biodiversity. Thousands of people around the globe are involved in this effort that can be described as a war waged on two fronts. In the West we fight by taking our dollars back from large food corporations and giving them to organic farmers and local markets. In the East and for others, like Rafram Chaddad in the Middle East, instead of pulling away from a system already in place, they are pushing back against the encroach of these unwanted food delivery systems.Chaddad artist and Slow Food coordinator in Israel, who has come to FLATT via Nicola Trezzi who met him in Italy, is on the verge of being recognized as one of the most cavalier in the Slow Food movement today. His pending book will reveal why; hint, it involves being captured by spies and imprisoned for five months. That aside, Chaddad’s work with Slow Food is focused on preservation and it entails a litany of issues we in the West have little comparisons for. For starters there are nearly no supermarkets or fast food restaurants in the Middle East, nor a real demand for them. Thus, by default local and organic produce is the main food option. So the slow issue for Chaddad becomes preserving the traditions and recipes that have kept “fast food” at bay. Chaddad seeks to preserve how food is grown, prepared and cooked.
Because the Middle East is an intersection of cultures that finds so much value and identity in food, sustaining those traditions is a way of not only keeping the supermarkets and fast food chains away, but also ensuring cultural diversity, biodiversity and perpetuation of recipes and farming traditions.However, no matter the geography, the ambition of Slow Food is not to be innovative or uniform. Rather, It is to keep food simple: to make diverse systems limited to the size of a city or a smallerself-sustaining unit, to eliminate super farms which try to feed a nation and to scale back our demands on food to what we can organically and locally produce. By doing this we will unpretentiously preserve the fruits of this movement’s labors: diversity in life, culture, and creativity.And as the mechanics of Slow Food are just being pioneered we decided to examine three “slow” businesses in New York – each with their own unique self-sustaining slow food systems – in juxtaposition with our interview of Rafram who discusses Middle Eastern food systems.To start, we spoke to Andrew Tarlow, one of the most multiform of the slow breeds. Tarlow has grown his food vision from a 30 seat restaurant in desolate Williamsburg to a Brooklyn based empire. Hecurrently owns four restaurants, a food magazine call Diner, a butcher shop, a line of retail goods and now a brand new hotel that accommodates a food book fair –and all operate under the same slowvalues, using extremely select and limited suppliers. Adherent to his beliefs about local and sustainable food and goods, yet undeniably no longer a small business owner like most involved in movement, he is certainly a leader taking movement to new height. But can these simple methods really scale up to this size and demand? Asked how he manages this all, he irreverently stated, “blind faith”. Meaning that his farmers will provide for his umpteen business’s needs and with “serious precision”, claiming he never stops thinking about the hotel, his restaurants, his farmers, his customers, and how they can all coalesce in a way that is good, fair and healthy for all. He compares it to a “living sculpture” and he is somewhat of a choreographer.Dance master he may be, but community and sustainability are his muse. Refusing to work with suppliers unless he knows them. When faced with need for rare or specific ingredients, he will create a way to secure them local, sustainable, and to have a real relationship with that person. For example he hires a farm in Lancaster just to “carefully” raise the exotic Silkie chickens which he serves at The Reynard. Seeming like a costly way to procure an ingredient I asked if he eventually will begin his own farm – he answered, “No. We work with farmers, we haven’t wanted to have a totally vertically integrated system, we want to make sure our money is being passed around and that the tide raises all our boats, were trying to spread this thing around, we’re not trying to get rich, were trying to serve quality food and take care of our self and the people we work with the best way we can.”He also shared, “I have a huge sustainability bent, we are choosing where everything comes from, for example citrus, its not something we can grow here in New York State, so we’re working now on how do we get citrus from Florida or California and how do we get to know that person that raises that fruit and make sure we’re never working with strangers, were trying to get a tractor trailer truck to come into NYC, we have created a system that has insulated ourselves, we don’t work like other businesses”
So where is he taking sustainable next? Perhaps fashion is next, all in good time – “The bigger thing of clothing a city, I try to connect those dots, we are working slowly with it, we really want to make sure it’ssustainable and we want to make sure we can build those relationships with those farmers the same way we have with food.” A man gone slow rogue, there isn’t a part of your quotidien he doesn’t want to put the brakes on.
While Tarlow is committed to Brooklyn, there is another group of slow foodies, Anna Castellani; her husband, Richard Lamb; and their partner, Clifford Shikler who have spanned both sides of the EastRiver with the priority of bringing quality and diverse food to all. Speaking with Castellani she said it all started about, “seven years ago when people recognized organics are passé, that organic couldstill include tons of pesticides, the powers that be decided to allow organic labels to be slapped on near anything”. It was then she and her partners noticed there was a need for another way. So they started Forager’s in Dumbo when no one was opening places like it, a DIY farm-to-table restaurant and market. They struggled at times and had to educate some of their customers, explaining that the milk they sold was not spoiled, but actually farm fresh and organic. Eventually they grew to a size where their needs could not be met by the local suppliers anymore. They couldn’t meet the demand, nor quality, left with no alternative they had no choice by to start afarm upstate. Neither partner were experienced farmers, but Richard took it upon himself to study Eliot Coleman’s farming methods, and eventually the farm’s success allowed the business the room it needed to grow. with the addition of the farm it seems they have perfected their slow model. In April 2012 they were able to open their Chelsea location. What they offer is something like a much higher quality Whole Foods that delivers to individuals produce much like Fresh Direct, but also delivering to other New York City restaurants which mainly buy meat from them. Anna, who has a great nature for educating, and is overwhelmingly full of useful information on the subject, is also one of the most shrewd in business. For this, I asked her if she thought that Slow was all a niche movement or if it would catch on and eventually everyone will be eating this way. She was absolutely hands down sure that this would be the future, “Oh yeah. Yes. That will happen, people will have to get used to spending more money on food, there will be cheap food forever, but people understand that it kills overtime. It won’t be seen as a luxury but a necessity for health and a sustainable planet”. And in terms of it growing nationwide and how feasible that would be, she insisted “We’ve got gorgeous arable land in the US, especially the east coast that’s a great way to create jobs…people just need to embrace local growers and a diverse food system”. Adding further about the lack of diversity in food, “people have become more inclined to buy according to what looks right, what looks fresh. The food system in western world is becoming dependent on one type of pig, one type of tomato, and so on…”. At Forager’s they are doing everything to undo this and it is working. People are realizing what Forager’s market can offer what no one else can. Anna is right when she says “it’s easy to compete because the bar has been set so low, its a great business, I don’t know why more people don’t open markets. It’s so pleasurable to be in the business of food, we are taking care of people, we are offering people the highest quality and most virtuous way possible” Yet while Slow Food thrives off of diversity, one thing these folks seem to have in common is a deep connection to the arts. This could be why Kalika Farmer has done so well with the clandestine Slow Food and art festivals she has created for the past two years in the Berkshires. Each year the festival has sold out. The last one, Arcadian Night, coupled the food of Blue Hill Farms (one of the first of farm-to-table establishments) and 42 artists’ work for one night of festivities. Drawing people 2 . hours away from city limits for a highly curated night of food and art. Kalika believes in removing as many distractions as possible from the joy of food, art , each other’s company, etc. In her events she wants people ”to be challenged by what they see here, to look a little longer, to look a little deeper, to try to find how things are connecting, to empower people to return to simple relationships, like the one between grower and consumer, artist and exhibition”. When not working toward these festivals, Kalika runs art advisory in Manhattan where she implements slow principals in her practice. Undoing some of the institutionalized ways artists and audiences communicate such as galleries, artists residencies, and museums, by curating, educating and working outside of them. Part of her hope of allowing the structures to be removed, is that the audience and the artist can reevaluate what the experience of art is and what expectations they have from it. It has parallels as well to food as Kalika draws the analogy, “ food should taste good, and food doesn’t have taste anymore”, so art has also lost its power in all of the strictures. On top of the festivals, another way Kalika is slowing things down is by her plan to offer an artists’ residency that is a solo experience. This is the opposite of what is common which is residencies where artists work together and critique each others’ work. Residencies also expedite the output of work as they are normally short and demand a product as the end, justlike any other commercial exchange, Farmer sites, “Commerce motivates you to be faster.” She is giving people a chance to slow down, let “ the magical emerge”, from her experience with these events she says a lot of solid relationships form, “many romantic” too. She’s asking artists to do what we are asking consumers to do, to pull away from the system, as she admittedly believes when you pull away from these things magic happens.And that is just it, in all these efforts, all one is toiling towards is an elevated space where health, community, romance can be enjoyed — the stuff that magic is made of.
NICOLA TREZZI: We met during the Jerusalem Season of Culture and you took me and few other lucky people on an amazing food tour in the old city. Was it the first time you would do something like that? Could you please tell me about your relationship with the city and your favorite food places there?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: Yes it was first time, I don’t really like “food tours”, they often “spoil” the city. Groups of people interfere with the basic structure of the market because they don’t buy any fruits, vegetables and spices. So I prefer usually not to do it unless it’s a small group, and we do buy things. I like Jerusalem, I grew up in the city and I like the two big markets, the Palestinian and the Israeli one. They are connected with one street and there are lots of similarities between the two markets. In both there are traditional, good-hearted people. They both hang their father’s photo inside the shops, and in the two markets you have terrific food.
BETH FIORE: We have some great markets in New York City too, it seems like more and more each year as people become aware of “farm to table” “DIY”, “urban farming” concepts. People are excited to explore and support this type of produce. I’m curious to know, do you see slow food as a way of economic growth and stability for certain communities in the Middle East?
RAFRAM CHADAD: We have this term also existing in Italy, they call it the Zero Kilometer Market. I think the answer is complicated. Slow Food doesn’t need to work where capitalism hasn’t arrived yet, where food is still not a number. We do witness supermarkets entering Arab countries like Egypt, but it’s easy to find the contra-solution. For example organic Egyptian limes in Zamalek neighborhood go for 2 Euro a kilo, while an old woman sits next to the supermarket selling “baladi” (natural, old agriculture) Egyptian limes for 10 cents a kilo. Slow Food efforts are not needed where capitalism hasn’t arrived, but where it has, it hurts mostly the weak societies, forcing them to eat badly, losing local seeds and eating not seasonally and healthy. This is the process the slow food movement must resist.
NICOLA TREZZI: We speak now after you just came back from Turin where you participate at the Salone de Gusto as a guest speaker. What did you present?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: I suggested there is a different way to see food traditions. One not only based on land, but also on stories and families. I gave as an example Jewish food, which is an immigrant foodwith fascinating aspects. It’s not connected to the land of Israel, but it’s tradition is important and should be learned. This is the same with gypsy food, nomads and so on. I talked about Palestinian food now eaten in Lebanon. Refugees from Somalia now in Tel Aviv are eating a mix of traditional foods. This is developing something new like every immigrant. I did this speech as part of the Slow Food congress.
BETH FIORE: In terms of a Slow Food movement based more on stories and family receipts than land, how do you see this working in the Western world or in America where our stories and traditions are so homogenized. Also, are you planning on sharing the stories and images of these families on a website or social media platform so they can be shared and archived?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: Also in Israel we have the same mélange of stories from other traditions. That’s where it starts to get interesting. The great food in the world: pasta, risotto, spices, potatoes, tomatoes;all created by immigrating societies. I do archive the recipes, sometimes by doing social sculpture projects, I do write some of the culinary stories, as part of a cultural background and interest. It is a big dream to do so, but it’s all about investing effort and time. It’s endless. I did start doing it in my family in Tunisia. It’s a photographic journey, and it already seems endless.
BETH FIORE: What do you think of “slow” in the larger sense of the movement? For example, in the processing of growing crops and raising animals for food there are other things that could be grown for other industrial uses. In harvesting crops and slaughtering animals there are many waste materials created – perhaps you could begin using the by-products for fashion, medicine, cosmetics, and home goods. Is this being done in the Middle East now?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: The term slow is not only connected to food, it’s connected to living, living in a different rhythm, respecting the land and the people around you. In an ecological way and yet enjoying your food and life. It’s connected to design, fashion, economics and even sex. It’s about enjoying life more and we do believe that we enjoy life more when we don’t exploit the earth and people. The Middle East is still behind in many things and unfortunately you need capital to run away from capitalism. This is the problem in these societies now.
NICOLA TREZZI: Your practice swings between food expertise and visual art and I was wondering whether it has always been like that or you started from art and went to food or vice versa.
RAFRAM CHADDAD: I started from art, but I don’t usually mix the two things. I refuse to see chefs as artists. They are limited in their cooking for taste and not poisoning, but artists are not. I do see food as a big important part in culture, like Kubelka said once, “The first metaphor in our life was the act of cooking.” I do teach courses about food in the Bezalel Art Academy, but I walk slowly there, discussing basic ingredients, smells, tastes, sociology, image and so on – but not mixing between visual arts and food.
NICOLA TREZZI: Among other things that made you famous, you initiated the slow food movement in Israel. Could you please tell me about that, how you started and how it is now and the situation in general with the food culture in the country? I know it had a big improvement in the last five-seven years.
RAFRAM CHADDAD: Slow Food in Israel existed in the beginning of the 90’s and then died until 2005, when I came. I started to address interesting people in several regions and asked them to be the leaders of the local chapters. After that we started working all together on educational programs and forming farmer’s markets. The cuisine in Israel is still in its infancy. The ideal will be mélange ofPalestinian/local food, Jewish food and western techniques. We are on our way to this point, but not there yet. We should give more respect to local food, local techniques. I started working with Slow Food after I spent few days with Carlo Petrini and he asked me to be involved.
NICOLA TREZZI: According to Haaretz, “After being kidnapped, tortured and kept for nearly half a year in solitary confinement, Rafram Haddad fell 12 days short of being granted status as a Prisoner of Zion.” I know it’s a tough issue but I also know you are writing a book about it, could you please share something about this part of your life with us?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: Yes, the book in Hebrew is already done. It was an interesting and strange case. I was kidnapped by Gadaffi people, and spent almost six months in a solitary confinement. I was rescued by a private jet. It was an odd situation with many strange stories around it. It can fill a book, which it does.
NICOLA TREZZI: For the entire year you will be based in Tel Aviv as part of the Art Port residency. Will you develop a specific project during your stay there? I know you will share a kitchen with the otherartists and curator in residence, do you think it will lead to possible collaboration of food experimentations?
RAFRAM CHADDAD: I am working on mapping some streets in Tel Aviv, together with the sewer plates, in every street. I am writing a survey that is asking the most unexpected questions that I’ll give in everystreet I choose to work with. The questions will be about fashion preferences, culinary, your route to the cafe/work in the morning– favorite dance and so on. I will analyze the findings and will give ita visual interpretation in the street itself. But, my food world is very simple. It’s mostly about good ingredients…that’s how I eat and cook 🙂
GRAPE HONEY LAMB ROAST Recipe by Rafram ChaddadThis recipe calls for grape honey. It’s made in Hebron and Istanbul. Muslim cities with lots of grapes. In these two cities there is a soil, called Havar. It’s white like chalk and the reaction of the grapes with this soil creates a molasses that is called grape honey, or pekmez in turkish, dibs in arabic.
1. Mix the grape honey and olive oil (same quantities) with chopped fresh mint, black pepper, salt, sliced red onion and fresh garlic.
2. Cut Lamb fillet into thin slices.
3. Roast adding only dry oregano for a minute.
4. Place on a plate and sprinkle on grape honey sauce.