The themes of the Slow Food Movement and our ethos at The Dysart Petersham are a perfect fit.
Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world, which links the pleasure of food with a commitment to traditional, responsible, respectful husbandry and to the sustainable health and diversity of the natural environment.
To mark our, and his, commitment over the years to this philosophy and these ideals, our Head Chef, Kenneth Culhane, was invited to join Slow Food UK’s Chef Alliance, a group that harnesses leading British based chefs in championing small-scale producers and promoting good quality, local and sustainably produced foods.
There are some 100 or so chefs across Great Britain who are members of this Alliance.
As one of our first projects with Slow Food UK, last year we planted seeds of a Forgotten Foods’ variety of leeks provided by SFUK. The seeds responded vigorously to planting. The leeks were gathered this Spring and served on our a la carte menus in a dish of Spring vegetables with Dorset wasabi and fresh herbs and in our vegetable broth. The variety, Musselburgh, robust to our colder climate has been grown in Scotland since the middle ages and is one of SFUK’s ‘forgotten foods’. It grew well, naturally and without any pesticides/fertilisers/artificial encouragement. It is not sold commercially in this country where French varieties reign, except as seeds and plants. It has a distinctive flavour and lovely sweetness. We get the next seeds to grow from SFUK soon.
The Slow Food Movement was founded in Italy only in 1989. It has rapidly fired the imagination and soul, becoming an international movement. Its aims are encapsulated and illustrated by just some of its projects:
- the Forgotten Foods Programme, raising awareness about small scale, quality products which are at risk through industrial-scale agriculture and environmental degradation
- the Foundation for Biodiversity, championing good, clean and fair food
- the production of a complete seasonality-calendar, raising awareness of the foods that are available locally and only at certain times of year
- a forgotten foods recipe book, to which we will be contributing, with cookery ideas that include neglected varieties of fruit, vegetables and meat, such as damson, peasemeal, Middle White pork cheeks and Morecambe Bay shrimps
- the UK Ark of taste, saving and promoting ingredients and tastes that are in danger of being lost.
These ideas match our own, with our commitment to working with only the best quality of seasonal ingredients and with small scale suppliers with high, traditional and responsible production, fishing and farming values. Our head chef sources rare-breed meats, for example, Middle White pork, Longhorn beef and Ryeland lamb from Huntsham Court Farm in the Wye Valley, as well as working with our local gardener to grow countless varieties of rare and forgotten herbs, old varieties of vegetables and edible flowers which would have been at home on menus hundreds of years ago.
Many of the ingredients we use are on the ‘Forgotten Foods and Ark of Taste’ lists drawn up by Slow Food UK, including: dulse seaweed, forced rhubarb, the various asparagus varieties we use and middle white pork. We have suggested that some of the local ingredients like sweet woodruff and some of the rare herbs and old varieties of vegetable we use be added to the list.
We have recently added two new ingredients from small scale suppliers promoted by SFUK, pepper dulse seaweed, rich in protein, from the Isle of Bute and Kentish cobnut oil, with the nuts themselves due later this year. We are currently looking at ‘Slow’ cheese made with raw milk.
For details of the wider activities of Slow Food UK please visit their website: www.slowfood.org.uk