Slow Food Nation: Foodies have their own convention

Categories: Events
Over the weekend, I was in San Francisco checking out Slow Food Nation, the country's first major celebration of American food. The event--made up of garden tours, speakers (Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, etc.), workshops, hikes, food sampling--was conceived to highlight the connection between what's on our plates and the health of the planet.

Slow Food is an Italian organization founded twenty years ago after a McDonald's restaurant openend in Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna. The now-worldwide group is dedicated to preserving traditional ways of growing and producing food, everything from handmade cheeses to heritage animal breeds. So called "slow foods" must not only taste good, but be made in a way that's environmentally responsible and fairly compensates producers.

My first stop was San Francisco's City Hall, where the front lawn had been dug up and replaced by a victory garden to encourage urban agriculture, with surplus produce donated to local food banks.

City Hall's gilded dome makes a striking backdrop for the gardens.

Tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and more, all at peak production.

Food stalls and lined either side of the garden, selling produce and prepared foods.

Vietnamese rice noodles with Nieman Ranch pork from the Slanted Door restaurant--yum!

The White House Organic Farm Project would love to see the same thing in Washington D.C.

Sunday afternoon, I hit up the concert and Taste Pavillions in the Presidio. The Taste Pavillions were like the Twin Cities Food and Wine show, except superior in every way. First, from an aesthetic point of view: Booths designated for each category of foodstuffs--wine, cheese, coffee, charcuterie--were designed by notable Bay Area architecture firms and located in and around a beautiful, historic pavillion on the pier in Fort Mason. Second, from an educational point of view: Guides thoroughly explained the foods visitors were sampling and helped educate visitors about everything from the production process to business regulations. In the cheese area, for example, visitors sat on hay bales and snacked while a cheesemaker discussed the different processes used for making hard and soft goat's milk cheeses, to why there are so many women getting into cheesemaking. Third, from a gustatory point of view: The food was better, as purveyors were plucked from the best of the best in the country. And finally, from a social point of view. None of the visitors appeared to be a part of cougar's night out--visably intoxicated, tottering around on high heels, spilling wine, and requiring the show's producers to call them a cab. Besides running into SF Mayor Gavin Newsom (I didn't get a pic, but, yes, his hair really is as impossibly slick as it appears in photos), here are a few highlights:

Lines outside the pavillions were massive: Organizers estimate 60,000 people attended the weekend's events.

The $65 tickets to the Taste Pavillions were sold out and reportedly going for $200 on Craigslist.

The wine pavillion offered hundreds of pours, including wines from Minnesota's Alexis Bailly Vineyard, Crofut Family, and Morgan Creek.

In the cheese area, I was pleasantly surprised when a guide offered me a sample of one of my favorite local cheeses, Wisconsin's Pleasant Ridge reserve.

Minnesota cheesemakers were well represented: Dancing Goat, Donnay Farms, Fairbault Dairy (I spotted their Amablu St. Pete's select in the case), Hope Creamery, Northern Lights, Pastureland Coop, and Shepherd's Way.

I had to come all the way to San Francisco to discover Death's Door vodka, from Door County, Wisconsin, in this blackberry-infused cocktail. Phillips Prairie Organic vodka was among those poured in the spirits booth. (Ames Farm was in the honey booth, too, but looks like I forgot to take a pic.)

Foodie celebs were everywhere--here's Alice Waters signing cookbooks.

The chocolate booth offered two tastings: one of four different high-end chocolates and another of the stages of chocolate making--cocoa beans, chocolate liquor, unconched chocolate, and the finished product.

The pickle and chutney pavillion by Sagan Piechota Architecture had the coolest design, with its mason jar divider walls and 3,000 dangling lids. (Full disclosure: my friend Jeremy helped design the booth--still, objectively, it was the hands-down audience fave.)

A little photobooth fun while waiting for samples...

Outside, stone ovens from the breadmaking booth warmed the air...

...and samples from the microbeer booth--I enjoyed 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer--warmed our insides.

All in all, it was a great event--I can't wait 'till the next one.

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