Does Slow Food know its audience and goals?


Melbourne is alive with the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. A special event as part of the two-week festival is ‘A Taste of Slow’, held this weekend. There aren’t a lot of spoken word events at the Festival; there are a lot of interesting demonstrations, classes and dining experiences. By ‘spoken word’ I of course mean something more than ‘this is how you cook ingredient X’ — I’m looking for something more intellectually stimulating than that.

Three years ago, the Festival held a number of interesting panel discussions in conjunction with a trade fair (Fine Food) and the level of information and discussion was reasonably good. Since then, my memory tells me that the only spoken word affairs have been on the Slow Food side of things. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the topics for discussion are narrowed by the simple fact that Slow Food has specific things it wants to talk about and it attracts certain types of people.

That was a rather long preamble to a long comment about some of this year’s spoken word events. I attended two of yesterday’s sessions:

  • What is Slow Food?
  • Wellbeing and pleasure

I came away with a numb bum and the feeling that Slow Food is still failing to get its message across or perhaps even to know what its message is.

The events actually started on Friday evening, with a keynote by Greg Critser about his book ‘Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World’ and the reactions to it. I had to miss this due to a more important commitment, but in hindsight it’s a pity, because this talk seems to indicate a new direction for Slow Food.

The first Saturday session, ‘What is Slow Food?’ was billed as:

Did you know that Slow Food supports a gastronomic university and a foundation for saving rare and endangered foods? Speaking from personal experiences, members of the Australian Slow Food movement, Daniela Mollica, Bob MacLennan and Christine Bond explore the concepts and projects that ate at the heart of the Slow philosophy.

If it had started on time, my bum wouldn’t have got as numb on the attractive but really rather hard seats in the BMW Edge auditorium at Federation Square. Mistress of Ceremonies, radio personality Helen Razer, thought she was being funny when she hoped ‘that everyone had travelled here at snail’s pace’. The organisers certainly had.

Daniela Mollica gave us a bit of her resumé, talked about her rare-breed cattle (Chianina), and provided a brief history of Slow Food in Melbourne and the Convivium (local chapter) that she helped found. She’s aware of many of the issues which concern Slow Food and the misconceptions about what Slow Food is, and she covered many points in an attempt to make a few things clear.

Bob MacLennan (Brisbane) talked about the ‘Ark of Taste’ which acts as a sort of registry for endangered traditional foods. He told us a little about the four Australian foods in the Ark (bunyanuts, bullboar sausages, leatherwood honey, Kangaroo Island Honey), showed us a mini-documentary about the breeders of mangalica pigs in Hungary and the starting of ‘Presidia’ (quality control projects), and then some film of initiation rites in Papua New Guinea. The latter was ostensibly relevant to his mention of giant yams, but the focus drifted.

Christine Bond (Darwin/Top End) started off by talking about food and history in the Top End but rapidly moved to telling us all about her Convivium’s activities and the practicalities of setting up and running a Convivium. At times it verged on the irrelevant for a Festival audience. Finally, we heard that her Convivium runs basic cookery classes. A noble endeavour, but it begs the question whether 99% of cookery books and classes are therefore ‘slow’.

It’s difficult running a movement-profile session when much of your audience might already know what Slow Food is, but others may have come because they knew nothing. A diverse audience requires a bit more than this hodgepodge. ‘Convivium’ was defined eventually. ‘Ark of Taste’ wasn’t explained fully, if I recall correctly, and the mysterious ‘Presidia’ suffered grammatically and conceptually. I don’t know if the speakers were given a clear brief, but after Daniela’s fairly good start it became less and less clear what the session wanted to achieve. As it was running so late, there was no chance for audience participation either — it would have been interesting to see why people attended and what they really wanted to know.

The second Saturday session, ‘Wellbeing and pleasure’, was described as:

Author Sherry Strong explains how slow, local and organic were never fads in nature, but simply the most convenient way to eat. Jane Dixon discusses how the supermarkets have weighed in on the debate about healthy eating. Chef Tony Chiodo demonstrates how easy it is to savour the simple pleasures of fresh, seasonal and healthy food.

And then it ran off the rails a bit. I didn’t expect to hear clichés about obesity and culture, or endure junk science and scare-mongering. That’s what we got to listen to.


Jane Dixon’s well structured talk (an academic with a clear Powerpoint presentation) started interestingly, looking at the conundrum of supermarkets offering healthy convenience food and, more broadly, the oft-ignored fact that supermarkets have offered a lot of improvements for our health and diet. It was inevitable that these topics would be left underexplored in a fairly short presentation with a diverse audience, but I wished there was a little more information beyond the very general facts.

However, Dixon then wheeled out a few clichés which work well with a sympathetic audience but leave a bad taste if you think about them:

  • she placed interesting emphasis on ‘supermarket aisles full of fruit juices with their sugars’ and that set off an alarm because part of the obesity-crisis lobby is currently targeting fruit juice as a villain.
  • She then cited a study showing that time spent in one’s car is linked to obesity (and supermarkets cause us to sit in our cars).
  • Then we had the ‘Europeans value quality over quantity’ claptrap — that’s right, France has no burger chains full of adults and teens, French cheese isn’t heavy on fat, and the ever-popular ‘formules’ (set menus) aren’t too large and nutritionally unbalanced.

Somewhere close to the end we heard the wonderfully incongruous ‘food is fuel now’ (as opposed to in the good old times when women slaved at the stove churning out meals for their (presumably not always taste-interested) husbands and children to eat, or (heavens!) when people had access to barely any dietary variety and of course were stone-soup gourmets as they dined in their medieval huts). Food is just ‘fuel’ now, yet we spend so much time talking about it, dining out, trying new food fads, falling victim to gourmet-product markups… ??

Sherry Strong’s talk was passionate and well rehearsed, but in the way an evangelist spreads a message through motivating or scaring and choosing their rhetoric very carefully.

‘The further we deviate from nature, the sicker, bigger we’re getting.’ ‘In nature you’d never think to store an apple for twelve months or to cover it in chemicals.’

I’d love a definition of what ‘nature’ is in this sort of empty argumentation. Individual overweight humans have been observed for quite a large part of history. Preserving food using almost any technique and useful substance available isn’t exactly new. Burying food stuffs or storing them in caves to get through long cold (or hot) periods is simply the precursor to the cold cabinet.

Perhaps the absolute stunner for the day was the broad-stroke assertion that processing things with chemicals makes them dangerous to you. Let me paraphrase closely: No-one has an addiction to poppy seeds, but look what happens when you make heroin out of them. Now think about all that over-processed oil and refined sugar. Oh my god. I think I need one of those Jamie Oliver ‘Flavour Shakers’ — I’d fill it with powdered nuance and sprinkle it liberally.

On a lighter note, pleasant and likeable chef Tony Chiodo chatted about health and healthy eating and whipped up two soups.


I’m sure there are lots of people caught up in the ideology being spruiked in this session and who would have agreed wholeheartedly with what was being said. By its very nature, Slow Food must attract people concerned about issues, but it can also serve an educative role. So much of the public discourse about food and eating exploits fears, misconceptions and rose-tinted nostalgia to persuade people to believe. Was this what the organisers of A Taste of Slow wanted in this session?

Across these two sessions, there was interesting information provided and points for discussion raised, but I felt the weaknesses were embarrassing. Spoken word events could be used to inform, explain, elaborate and challenge, but instead the first session was poorly thought out and the second (and perhaps other parts of the program as a whole) seem to be a path of ideology. It worries me, particularly, that the obesity-crisis lobby is gaining a voice under the Slow Food banner. I don’t see what legitimate role obesity clichés have within a movement that is meant to focus positively on food and cultural tradition. Daniela Mollica ended her talk by saying that Slow Food was about being ‘inclusive and positive, not exclusive and negative’, but those values will be hard to maintain if people who spend their time obsessing about negatives (evil supermarkets, evil industry, evil scientists, evil processed food) are embraced without question by Slow Food.

Review: The Press Club, Melbourne


Strange. I’m dining fine in Australia, yet the menu isn’t French, Italian or Mod-Oz. I’m not surrounded by connoisseurs of Cantonese food (Flower Drum) and Greg Malouf’s latest project isn’t quite ready, so it’s not exquisite Middle Eastern dining either. Some of the staff and chefs speak a cuisine-appropriate language, but are most likely home-grown. The cuisine is usually regarded as meat-heavy and conservative.

George Calombaris’s very modern food successfully marries cutting edge with tradition at the Press Club. In his time at Reserve he attracted attention for his serious flirtation with modernist cooking (aka molecular gastronomy), being the third main proponent of that direction in Melbourne at the time. When he moved to the The Press Club, many diners looked forward to a continuation of this direction and were disappointed (though still wowed by the food).

The evening started in the bar, a separate area to the right of the entrance. The host/booking manager/lounge lizard at the entrance was too busy havin’ a larf with his mate to bother opening the door, checking whether I was drinking or dining, or for that matter actually acknowledging my passing by. I found the bar and my companions for the evening. A long, minimalist space. Attractive. Hundreds of bottles of bar liquids displayed with rear/up illumination form a tempting display. In the far corner was a group of office workers having a drink and screeching in a manner strongly reminiscent of a group of girls in a Japanese bar. The acoustics are abysmal, screeching or not. The drinks menu is interesting, but doesn’t constrain creativity or other suggestions from behind the bar. The ‘ouzo flight’ was impressive, with three measures, well explained too, presented with a glass of ice and a small carafe of water. Bar staff were engaging and helpful. The host/booking manager/lounge lizard flitted around, chatting to his mate, mistaking us for another party and almost taking us to be seated in the dining room.

Dining takes place in a large, dark space to the left of the entrance. Tables are spacious and attractive. Quite a few covers are squeezed into the room, but I only realise this in hindsight — the experience was comfortable throughout. An open kitchen provided unimpeded views of activity, but no views of the cooking (except the rotisserie in the corner) as tables were lower than the wall around the kitchen area. It was a calm, seemingly harmonious kitchen, too!

A good range of photos are shown on the restaurant’s website.

I was surprised at how Greek the place felt. A fair number of the clientele were of Greek heritage. The floor manager and some cooks too. And the food, definitely. Those who have read about The Press Club will think I was just ignorant, but my surprise was based on the volume of positive commentary I’ve heard around me without one person actually talking in detail about the food. I had chosen not to look at the menus (available online) so as to avoid expectation, but the website certainly makes it clear that the cuisine is Hellenic.

The meal started with far, far too much bread. It was delicious stuff. Not particularly Greek, but I’m not complaining. Delightful ciabatta, honey and pistachio rye(?), unusually successful sundried tomato bread. We devoured it injudiciously. [Note to management, do NOT reduce the amount of bread, despite my moaning.] Dietary restrictions had been identified and were well accommodated. A gluten-free companion was given suitable bread without hesitation and was warned about a coating on a dessert which contained a very small amount of wheat flour. A pescatarian was happily vegified and the antipesco (me) was made happy too.

We realised that all was not traditional when the first dishes arrived. Scallops adorned with popcorn. Hmmm. Very modernist cooking. Not a taverna on Lesbos. Good. A salad with watermelon and smoked feta. Light me up and send me to heaven. Smoked feta! Excellent dolmades (though I think homemade can outdo them). Salmon adorned with (amongst other things) tomato yolks. Huh? Chef Calombaris brought his chemicals to The Press Club. Liquids encased in a fragile skin has been one of the titillating hits of modernist cooking, made possible by sodium alginate and calcium chloride. My companions failed universally to transport their yolks to their mouths in one piece. Tsk. They were warned! But despite this they agreed, I believe unanimously, that these ‘yolks’ were perhaps the most stunning element of the dinner. Pity they were on the fish, so I was excluded. Boohoo. Of course, there are different types of ‘stunning’, and the roast lamb was worthy of some pleasured murmurs. We really didn’t need the enormous bowl of lemon potatoes. We were getting full. But not so full as to turn down the fat square of spanakopita.

Loosening our belts and bras, it was time for dessert. A clove(?) semifreddo with clove(?) foam (modernist touches again, not offensive). Loukoumades. Impressive baklava. And, alas, a mastic pannacotta which to most of us tasted far too vegetal. I like mastic, and was surprised at the flavour of the pannacotta, with ‘green’ being the primary impression. Very little of the warm gingery mintiness of mastic. This was the only dish that we had reservations about.

(This description is by no means comprehensive, and as I was there to eat, not review, some innaccuracies about ingredients may exist here.)

Service was relaxed but exceedingly professional. Our white wine reeked of burnt rubber. After some hesitation we raised the matter. Was this a taint? (Volcanic soil wines are often a tad odd…) A second bottle was opened. More tyres. A third, without complaint. A beautiful wine, excellent service. All done without a hint of accusation or reluctance. The dessert wines were another experience, though this time entirely positive — we tasted each before choosing our preference. It’s a long time since I’ve felt that service was so good. I hope this is the usual experience for all diners at The Press Club.

The Press Club offers a number of dining formats. Ours was a type of ‘Kerasma’ shared menu, but à la carte and degustation options exist too. Prices aren’t low (mains are just under the A$40 mark), but I suspect the enjoyment value will outweigh any reservations for many diners!

The Press Club, 72 Flinders Street, Melbourne VIC 3000. 03 9677 9677

George Calombaris’s book, The Press Club, will be released at the beginning of March. I’ve seen bits of it and it is well worth looking at when it’s released.

Storing your chocolates in style

How do you store your chocolate? At various times I’ve made sure my chocolate was happily resting in the following places:

  • my tummy
  • my mouth
  • my hand
  • chucked to the back of a cupboard
  • (rarely) the fridge
  • an Esky (insulated box)
  • an insulated bag

Of course, my 5kg block of Callebaut is hard to store anywhere but on the dining table, though it is now down to 3kg, so almost fits in my insulated bag.

Meanwhile, some people have waaaaay too much money to burn and invest in the likes of this:


Yes, that’s right, for a mere USD 825 you too can have this lovely ‘vault’. And if you’re thinking that’s excessive, consider how much the chocolates from Richart cost, and you’ll see it’s not too much of an ask to spend that little bit on the box. Ho ho ho.

I wrote about Richart’s chocolates at the end of 2007. They were distinctly yummy, a tad too delicate at times, exquisitely presented, not for everyday eating unless you have a poodle and a millionaire nearby.

Source: thanks to Stickyfingers for drawing this to my attention.

Baba ghanoush


Eggplant does not play a part in my life. I do not understand eggplant. I hate the smell of it cooking. The texture is dodgy too. ‘Let’s have an eggplant curry, Duncan!’ my friends cry. ‘No! Anything but that!’ pleads your mild-mannered writer.

But there is an exception. I can eat cupfuls of baba ghanoush. That’s right. A slimy mush of eggplant, garlic, lemon and tahini is my idea of heaven. As with many outstandingly tasty dishes (and far too many unequivocally foul ones), baba ganoush is a dip with a million recipes, each someone’s absolute favourite. Mine is adapted from Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food (1986, Penguin).

For one large eggplant (or about three slender Lebanese ones), you need one modest clove of garlic, 3/4 tsp salt, the juice of one large lemon, and 60 ml of tahini. None of these amounts are law — vary at will. This amount is sufficient for a romantic night for two of garlic-breathing bliss.


  • Tahini is a pure paste of toasted sesame seeds. It is pale and creamy. There is apparently also a coarse variety which shouldn’t be used here. Tahini is also called tahina, tahineh, tahin and just about any other vowel substitution you care to try.
  • Baba ghanoush (also baba ghanooj and other variant spellings) differs from the Greek dip melitzanosalata in that the latter is roasted, rather than grilled, and doesn’t have tahini added. It is usually milder and a little wetter than baba ghanoush, but also delicious.
  1. Grill the eggplant under/over high heat until black and wrinkly. You can cut them in half if necessary, but cover the cut side with foil to reduce moisture loss. I don’t recommend just roasting them in the oven, as the smoky flavour doesn’t develop and the dip is then dull.
  2. When the eggplant flesh is mostly soft, remove from the heat and scoop the flesh into a sieve over a bowl. The flesh is often stringy, especially if slightly undercooked. It doesn’t matter (except aesthetically).
  3. eggplantflesh1.JPG

    Is it a monster from the deep?


  4. Squeeze the eggplant flesh to release some of the juice. I don’t think this makes much difference to the final flavour with our contemporary, fairly unbitter eggplants, but less moisture gives a nicer texture in my opinion.
  5. Put the eggplant in a medium bowl. Mash (as coarsely/finely as you wish).
  6. Crush the garlic with the salt.
  7. Add garlic, salt and lemon juice to the eggplant and mix well.
  8. Add the tahini and mix well.
  9. Taste and adjust as necessary. If in doubt, allow to sit for a while before tasting again.
  • If you prefer, you can puree the whole mixture, giving a wonderfully creamy paste.
  • Serve with fresh Duncan’s sourdough or a nice toasted bread or flatbread.
  • Store baba ghanoush in the refrigerator for up to five days. Do not leave it to stand at room temperature and then rechill it multiple times!



Does my breath look bad in this?

Eat your pancakes!


Today is Shrove Tuesday. That means it’s 41 days until Easter Egggggies! (That will come as a shock to my supermarket, which had Easter eggs on its shelves on 2nd January!)

But let us forget the eggies for the moment for, today, all over the civilised world, people should be pigging out on pancakes. (The civilised world expands and contracts as I see fit, so for today it excludes most Catholics, many non-English speakers and all people of non-Christian faiths, but includes anyone who cares more about pancakes than religion.)


As a child, there was only One True Pancake. It was thin. Not quite crêpe-thin, but close enough for the crêpe-free people not to know the difference. Each pancake was bestrewn with soft brown sugar. Sometimes the sugar would clump into little black balls. We called those cockroaches. And then we squeezed lemon juice over it, watching the cockroaches slowly dissolve. Quick! Roll up the pancake and suck the sugary, lemony juice out of the roll.

I feel sorry for those uncivilised places (Germany, Sweden, France, …) where you can’t get the lovely, moist, fine brown sugar necessary for this primal pancake pleasure.

After rolling in pancakes, I began to reflect on what pancake means to people on less important days of the culinary calendar. Pancake has always meant thin for me and I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the spread of those thick things as the default. For me, those thick, leavened things are either pikelets (the smaller ones, also called drop scones or Scotch pancakes) or American-style pancakes (larger, often slathered with syrup).


Home economist: Duncan’s mum. Food stylist & photographer: Duncan’s dad.

I wonder what my readers think (depending where you live, of course) — what do you immediately think of when you hear or read ‘pancake’? And have you always had the same default pancake in your head?

[For anti-pancakers, please consider Swedish Easter buns, which I wrote about last year.]

Average US diet includes 235 grams of meat a day

An interesting article by US food writer Mark Bittman in the New York Times discusses the various negative aspects of high consumption of meat. In Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler, Bittman concentrates primarily on industry and environmental issues.

It’s an odd piece, using a range of facts, some rather random, to support an argument that Americans should eat less meat. Some of his figures are contradictory: the claim that the US diet includes eight ounces (235 gm) of meat per day doesn’t match a later statement:

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year

Eight ounces (235 gm) per day would be 188 pounds per year… yet Bittman says 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish.

Still, it’s a hell of a lot either way. I eat at most 400 gm red meat and poultry per week, so less than 60 gm (2 oz) per day. How much meat do you or those around you eat per day?

NB: A greatly edited version of Bittman’s article appeared in The Age, Melbourne, but it’s not worth linking to.