Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Slow Food Taste Pavilions: a Glutonous Display of Food

One of the other events I participated in during Slow Food Nation was the Taste Pavilions. My ticket for this event was a whopping $58 after getting a discount from the original $65 via the Whole Foods discount. When my friend Lora and I arrived at Fort Mason, where the Taste Pavilions were being held, however, we were taken aback by the abundant display of delicious foods and suddenly realized that our $58 was money well spent.

The organizers of Slow Food Nation convinced local architects to create designs to convert one of the Fort Mason warehouses into a series of food specific rooms or "pavilions" where visitors can taste and learn about artisan versions of their favorite foods. Taste wise, my favorite of all of the pavilions was, by far, the ice cream pavilion. There were two "flights" of ice cream scoops, and I chose the Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil, and Fresh Blueberry flight, which was most definitely the best of the flights. The chocolate was creaming and wonderfully flavorful, the olive oil subtlety sweet and extra creamy with the fat of the oil, and the blueberry actually tasted like blueberries--what a concept!

My other favorite pavilions were the Olive Oil, Chocolate, Fish, and Wine, each for different reasons. The Olive Oil pavilion was in my opinion the best designed of the pavilions: the designers used everyday construction materials such as orange netting, raw wood, and crates to create a beautifully lit space that truly transported you away from the rest of the pavilions. More specifically, the front of the pavilion was occupied by a tasting station while the back of the space was equipped with an educational space where trained olive oil experts told about how to properly taste olive oil, which is a process reasonably similar to wine tasting, just involving smaller tastes (I mean, would you really want to drink a glass of olive oil in one sitting?). This pairing of spaces made it nice to go back to the tasting part of the pavilion so that you could taste each olive oil, knowing which undertones to look for. The chocolate pavilion was great because of the variety of tasting they gave you; it was also interesting how the flavors of each chocolate changed as you ate the other pieces, your taste pallet changing with each bite of chocolate. The wine pavilion, while not a wonderfully designed space, was wonderfully fun to go to with my friend Lora who can look at an absurdly long wine list and pick out the most expensive bottles to try, and boy, were some of them amazing. The fish was also a delicious stop for the creativity of each dish and was especially tasty after the disappointing charcuterie pavilion.

And so yes, the charcuterie was very disappointing. While the prosciutto we had was tasty, but it's pretty hard to have prosciutto not be tasty. We were also given beef jerky (really?) and something that resembled pate, but wasn't. Each were fine, but none had any wow factor. Charcuterie truly was a pavilion with so much potential (just off the top of my head, why no lardo?) that was totally not taken advantage of, while also in the midst of other pavilions that were totally pushing the envelop of their respective food products.

One of the most fun parts of the night, however, was are mistaken crashing of the employee party. After the official ending of the Taste Pavilions at 9, people congregated outside the event in front of the beer pavilion, and Lora and I thought it appropriate to join them. Eventually, it went on past 10 and a lot of people had left, and those remaining started to ask us which pavilion we had worked in. After enough people asked us, we realized we were in fact crashing the staff party, which was more than fine with the good natured foodies. The great part about the party was that all the beer, bread, and opened bottles of wine not used during the event were now being given out for free for all to take, which we might have taken advantage of just a bit.

Relating this back to the Slow Food movement as a whole, Slow Food is often criticized for being an exclusive or bougie movement; due to the expensive price of the ticket for the pavilions, this point is valid. While it was a wonderful experience to taste such delicious food, the polished designs of the pavilions, the high end food products, and the well dressed visitors seemed a little removed from some of the movement's "roots". On the other hand, having such a celebration of food brings delicious food and the necessary steps to obtain this food (good, clean, fair being the moto of the slow food movement) to the attention of a greater public than it would have otherwise. In this manner, it is great that it is more prevelent to be a conscientious food consumer but I would agree with one of the speakers I saw in a panel during the weekend (which will be the subject of my next posting) who said that one of the greatest obstacles to the movement is fashion. As fashions change and flux, we do not want the slow food movement to be a fad that will simply pass with time.

Also, I should mention that Alice Waters was there. She signed my ticket. Swoon.

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