2010 WAS A WHIRLWIND of a year for us at Slow Food Columbus. It started quietly enough, with one of a series of wine events that Jonna Brandon at The Twisted Vine has been good enough to put on for us (like the Food and Wine Pairing seminar in May) and a vertical tasting with Master Sommelier Matthew Citriglia. Vertical tastings are a great way to do taste education because you have an opportunity to see very directly how wine changes over time. Drinking wine with Matt Citriglia is wonderful because Matt, aside from being one of only two Master Sommeliers in the state, is a natural teacher. If you’ve ever heard the old line (attributed to everyone from Voltaire to Mark Twain) that “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead,” you’ll appreciate the fact that Matt is one of those guys who has had time to write the short letter… and when you talk to him, you always benefit from that fact.
Then, in March, we had the honor of throwing a reception in honor of Chefs Kent Rigsby and Magdiale Wolmark, the first two Columbus chefs nominated for a James Beard award. We devised the conceit of holding a potluck-style gathering at which we would cook for them. Our members, faced with the daunting task of cooking for two professional chefs of such caliber, did not hesitate. The food that they produced made us proud (and looking over the photographs of it makes me hungry).
Our time with chefs was far from over, it turns out. When WOSU announced that Chef Rick Bayless would be coming to town, we offered to host a reception and book signing for him. We turned to Taco Trucks Columbus and North Market Poultry and Game for good, clean, fair and authentic Mexican fare, and the result was a reception that had everyone smiling. Even the Chef had good things to say about the food, in his usual fashion:
@Rick_Bayless Book signing@North Market Columbus sponsored by Slow Food&Local Matters.TacoNazo taco truck made gr8 tamales&cake!
A couple of weeks later we launched our first Off the Menu event at Nida’s Thai on High, titled Flavors of Thailand. The event, and the series, were prompted by the fact that Nida and her chef (who are Thai) often eat a very different style of Thai food than do their customers, and, not to put too fine a point on it, we wanted to try what they eat! Once we started talking to them about it, we realized that customers more generally bear a big responsibility for what ends up on the plate—and we started getting more and more curious about what other chefs would do if we told them to “take the kid gloves off” and do what they wanted. So Off the Menu was born (next stop Knead, for Flavors of Italy).
It was around this time that we started urging some of our top chefs, farmers, and producers to apply to go to Terra Madre, Slow Food’s worldwide sustainability conference in the fall. We knew that we had some top candidates, and we pledged to do some fundraising to support them when they were accepted. What we didn’t know was that every person who applied would be accepted either as a delegate or as an alternate, and that in the end nine out of the 400 American delegates—nearly one out of every forty—would come not just from Ohio but from central Ohio. Their biographical sketches are here, and if you haven’t read them, I can’t urge you strongly enough to take the time to do so.
We very quickly concluded two things. One, Slow Food USA has excellent judgment. Two… we had some fundraising to do.
Fortunately, the community stepped up in a big way. Val Jorgensen of Jorgensen Organic Farm opened her farm and donated its bounty for what became the largest fundraiser we’d ever been involved with, the Girasole Dinner, named after the sunflowers cultivated there by Roger Genter. Chef David Wolfe of the Hyatt Capital Square headed up a team of chefs including Tina and Kim Elsea of Cafe DaVinci, Jim Budros, Derek Bergemann, and Laura Robertson-Boyd. Andrew Semler of Lucky Cat Bakery donated bread, our friends at Blue Jacket Dairy once again donated cheese, Mike and Laura Laughlin of Northridge Organic donated produce, Devon Morgan of the Hyatt and Alana’s Food and Wine donated desserts, and Pat and Connie Allen (United Estates Wines), Eric Bean (Columbus Brewing Company), Debra and Greg O’Molesky, and the crew at Glazer’s Distributors of Ohio ensured that we were well-stocked with beverages. And the remarkable thing is that this list only scratches the surface! Bethia Woolf, Andy Dehus, Cameron Goodyear, Joey Lentz… so many people who heard about our delegates either volunteered or agreed to help out in an event that gave new meaning to the words “feel-good event of the summer.” A reception followed in the North Market’s Dispatch Kitchen in mid-November, at which the delegates discussed their experiences.
We took a brief breather from big events to partner with Rachel Tayse-Baillieul of Hounds in the Kitchen for a tomato canning seminar. Columbus is fortunate to have someone as focused as Rachel is on the nuts and bolts of sustainability, and since we occasionally get the sense from our members that skills like canning and preserving are abilities that they’d like to have, we thought we’d join forces with Rachel and offer a one-day class. (If you’d like to see more events along these lines—or more events of any type, for that matter—let us know.)
We also continued our work on some ongoing efforts to improve the food system. Working with other regional stakeholders on the Mid-Ohio Food Policy Council at MORPC, we had input into what became the Central Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan, a document that sought to understand and prioritize the means by which we could best promote and expand local food consumption within the region. We also worked with Slow Food Cincinnati in an attempt to have goetta, a scrapple-like oat-meat breakfast food almost entirely unknown outside the Cincinnati area, boarded to the Ark of Taste.
It wasn’t long until we were back out at the farm for our third annual open air dinner. Shake the Hand that Feeds You III at Flying J Farm was truly extraordinary. In contrast to other farm-to-table fundraisers with ticket prices in the $150-$300 range, the Caskey family, the collective genius behind the newly-opened restaurant Skillet, along with Dick Jensen of Flying J, Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery, Angel King of Blue Jacket Dairy, Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Farm Creamery, Mike Laughlin of Northridge Organic Farm, Colleen Braumoeller of The Greener Grocer, Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Vino 100, The O’Molesky Family, the Ely Brothers, and our many volunteers, put together a farm-to-table dinner that not only raised money for us and $1,000 for Flying J, but did it at the jaw-dropping price of only $35 per person for members. (You won’t be surprised to hear that it sold out… and there were nearly fistfights over those truffled griddled-cheese sandwiches.)
It may come as no surprise, after that amount of effort, that three of the next four events centered around alcohol! We partnered with Andrew Hall and the newly-formed Columbus Food Adventures for a tour of the Ohio River Valley, with Middle West Spirits for a tour of their distillery and reception at the home of members Molly Kurth and Christy Cook (kudos to John Dornback of Basi Italia for the delicious food for the reception!), and with Landon Proctor of Blacklick Wine and Spirits for a Madeira tasting at DeepWood. In the middle of all that, we received word that Chef David Tanis of Chez Panisse would be visiting Columbus, and when we asked whether we could be of assistance, we found ourselves at lunch—and dinner—with the chef and quite a few of Columbus’ food bloggers. The meals and the company were among the most pleasant we can recall, and after dinner we even ran into someone who was happy to give Chef Tanis an impromptu tour of her own little part of the city:
All in all, it’s been a wonderful 2010. We look forward to more excitement with all of you in 2011, to new and fascinating adventures that will educate us, inform us, and keep us hungry for more.