Sunday, November 05, 2006

Going for the Gusto

Before I begin, I would like to clarify that we only covered a small portion of the Salone del Gusto in Turin and that any opinions you are about to read are purely from the perspective of one that is barely half informed. But this condition has never prevented me from offering my 2 cents worth in the past and I don't see why I should tempt fate and alter my methods this late in my game.
Mel and I headed down to Italy on Friday with a couple of raging colds and the bitter reality that we probably wouldn't be able to taste or smell a good deal of the delicious things that we expected to encounter at the SdG, so we decided it would be in our best interest to punt as long as possible and delay our arrival until the last moment. At the SdG this year, the last moment was Monday.
Armed with nothing more than an English version of the program and a pocket full of cash we headed towards Turin. Our traveling companion was Patrick, an Australian from Sydney, well versed in Aussi wines but newly initiated to Italian. He was eager to learn and ready for the culinary challenges of the day, he made a good companion and patiently listened as Mel and I waxed poetic about Piemonte.
We made it to the exhibition with a bit of luck, some guess work and Patrick's relatively good memory of a another friends sat-nav from their visit on Saturday. The event was remarkably poorly marked from our approach, in fact we were not even sure if we had the right building and parking lot, but because of all the activity we felt something had to be going on and we hoped it was the SdG. As luck would have it, we were right and in no time we found a parking spot relatively near the door and off we went.
Gates opened at 11:00 AM and the lines were not bad at all. We were each 20 euros lighter and in the building by 11:20. Once in, we met Maggie and Enrico from London. Maggie had contacted me on eGullet and suggested we meet up. She is a New Yorker and free lance journalist who has written for the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and Decanter Magazine to name a few. Enrico is Italian, he grew up in London and currently manages a hedge fund, but his boyish charm is immediately relaxing and we knew from the start we were going to have a good time with them.
Paolo arrived fashionably late and in typical Italian style, he was flustered after a heated discussion with a woman-friend about some sort of romantic escapade..... Italians are so passionate!
So off we went to explore the Salone and the first stop was the Italian Market.Market is some what of an understatement…it was huge. There were hundreds of stands and thousands of things to learn about and sample. It was pretty clear right from the beginning that we were going to have to pace ourselves or we stood the potential of suffering burn-out, not to mention serious drunkenness.
There was row after row of various salumi and meats. Baked, bottled and preserved objects of every description. Chocolate took on every form and was mixed with every conceivable kind of fruit, nut, herb or other unusual condiment. Nothing was out of the question. Some pretty smart people had been thinking long and hard to come up with flavor combinations...some successful and some not. We tried taste after taste of DOP salamis and cheeses, unusual digestives, ice creams and liquors. There were whole hairy legs of wild pig being lovingly sliced by elegant men and women using delicate thin- bladed knives. There were big, fat butchers piling slices of whole roasted suckling pig on to fluffy buns with their thick little fingers. Honeys of every description were available to sample, some as light as chardonnay and some as black as a Guinness on a dark night. Everyone was happy, and numerous fat gluttons sat breathlessly on the benches at the end of the aisles gathering the strength to waddle up another row of food stands.
The place was positively buzzing, but in spite of all that I could not help noticing a few things that were amiss.... where was the slow-food? Almost without exception everything was convenience food. The kind you slice and eat or pour from a jar or perhaps unwrap and dip in your coffee or pull the cork from and drink. It was very rare to see one thing that was fresh that you had to cook. Additionally there wasn't much "gear" available either. For me, gear is essential! Where were all the knife companies? Where were the guys that make the really heavy copper pots and peppermills? Ok, Berkel was there and they had some really bitchin’ hand-crank slicers, but all-in-all I think I expected the market place to be geared for the chef, but it was really more geared for the eater: preserved meats and bottled things were certainly the order of the was mostly the hamper stocking material you see in the basement of exclusive stores on the high street. Stuff you might give as a gift, not stuff you really use as a cook.
Ok, ok, I'll quit bitching and move on to the "Enoteca" ...there was wine everywhere! I'm not sure, but I think there were nearly 2000 different wines on offer. The system worked like this; you pay 4 euros to get in and they give you a nifty wine glass with the slow food emblem etched on the foot where it should say Reidel, you also get 2 euros worth of tickets. Wines cost between 1 and 4 tickets each glass and you can buy as many additional tickets as you like for 1 euro each. If you are lucky you will find a free table and if you are really lucky there will be a big basket of bread on the table. If you are really lucky AND really smart you will have bought some salami and cheese in the Market Hall, which you will immediately whip out of your bag and start cutting up.... like we did (no one minds). If you follow my prescription, 90 minutes later you will emerge from the enoteca with rosy cheeks, a full belly and the niggling urge for a nice grappa to wash it all down.
Truth be told, I had a great time. SdG is a great place to be a food tourist. You can wander and forage for days and you don't even get accosted with sales material because the people behind the counters are too pooped to bother. We spent 6 hours there and I really don't think we covered 1/3 of the event.

But I do have to wonder if Carlo Petrini really had this kind of massive-mega-marketing in mind when he began Slow-Food?


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