SFN Day 3: Taste of Excellence

by | Aug 31, 2008

I spent Day 3 of Slow Food Nation at the a.m Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason. My day began at 11am as I sat down to the first Green Kitchen session, which was a cooking demonstration from chef Traci Des Jardins (see pic) of Jardinere, Acme Chop House and Mijita. The idea behind the Green Kitchen series is to provide low-budget YouTube videos (in conjunction with NPR) of simple recipes by expert chefs to de-mystify the art of cooking. I will post a link when the videos are available.

Let’s start by making it clear that Des Jardins is a one of my culinary heroes, and Jardinere is one of my favorite restaurants. To give you an idea, in 2005 she whooped Mario Batali on Iron Chef. Today she demonstrated a simple Italian-style salsa verde, which was actually more like a gremolata than your traditional Mexican salsa verde (tomatillo-based). She started by mashing garlic, anchovies and capers with a mortar and pestle, then chopped in shallots and added olive oil. She then finely chopped Italian parsley, chervil and tarragon, topped it off with salt, pepper and lemon zest. The salsa verde was served on a slice of hard boiled egg with a sprinkle of seasoned bread crumbs. Delicious!!
My day only got better from there. I was given a ticket with “Slow Dough” that I could exchange for tastings at the various booths. Represented were Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. As you can imagine I could not get through them all. But it was not for lack of effort, I can assure you.
I started at the fish station (I already had anchovie breath) and was given three amazing tastings of cold seafood salads. In retrospect I probably should not have finished all three of them, but they were so good I could not resist and I had no idea what I was in store for later.
Completely satisfied for the moment, I realized I had better devise an attack plan or I would either run out of room in my stomach or Slow Dough before I was ready. I decided to stick with the savory flavors and move my way to more sweeter fare, so my next stop was charcuterie. Three different cured, salty meats that melted in my mouth and I knew I was in for a long, delicious day.
Full of meat, I realized I needed a little help digesting or I would never make it through the entire four hours. I stopped at the wine pavilion and picked up a glass of nice rose to cut the heaviness and salt. Feeling better I was ready to start on carbohydrates and made my way to the pizza pavilion. The line was long, which was perfect. I sipped my wine, made a few friends and by the time I got to the front I was ready for a smallish (thank God!) slice of sausage and rapini pizza. It was a bit spicy and my glass was empty so I went back to the wine pavilion to wash it down with a fantastic grenache from Quivira (2006) in Dry Creek Valley.
No doubt I was approaching full, but I was not about to give up. While in line for pizza I had overheard a discussion about the pickle station. The guy in front of me was actually munching on a plate of them and oohing and ahhing after every bite. Pickles are not heavy but are still on the savory side, so when I was ready I headed straight there.
Pickles! Who knew there could be so many and they could be so good?! I am so unfamiliar with pickles and tried so many varieties that I do not know where to begin with my descriptions. Suffice to say they were amazing and my eyes were opened to a new world. While I was enjoying an incredibly crisp pickle-bite from Georgia, I walked to a new counter and started listening in on the conversation next to me hoping to learn about what I would enjoy next. When I looked a little closer I realized I was standing right next to Elizabeth Faulkner from Citizen Cake! I told her she was my hero and she was nice enough to chat and take her picture with me. She also informed me that Citizen Cake had provided some cupcakes for the event that were at the honey and preserves station, so that was my next stop.
The quarter-sized honey cupcake with pistachio was one of the most delectable bites of cake I have ever had. I have never seen these at Citizen Cake, but maybe they are on the menu now? I guess I will have to go check. I know it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Approaching capacity, I realized I was on the home stretch. Next up: gelato. I think this was my least favorite stop in the Taste Pavilion. Sure it was pretty good, but I lived in Tuscany for three months so I am kind of a tough critic of gelato. Then again, maybe it is just because I was so full. My flight included samples of Scharffen berger chocolate, molasses and pistachio gelatos. I really thought I would like them more.
To my dismay, I still had half of my Slow Dough left after gelato. How was I going to get through this? Coffee! The coffee pavilion was remarkable. Two lines led to either an espresso bar or a sampling of three different drip coffees. Each barista offered details of the origin and growing practices of each bean, truly some of the best coffees I have ever tasted (noticing a trend here?). I think the El Salvadoran espresso from Counter Culture Coffee was my favorite.
I had more Slow Dough, but I knew I was done. Cheese and olive oil tastings were very tempting, but just too heavy for me to enjoy in my state. Beer was out of the question. I went back to the wine station and had one more flight to round off the afternoon. Yet as full as I was, I never wanted to leave.
In my opinion, Slow Food Nation was a triumph of taste, culture and awareness. I encourage all of you to participate in the coming years.

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5 Responses to “SFN Day 3: Taste of Excellence”

  1. Anonymous says:

    So what are your main 3 take-home messages from SFN?

  2. Darya Pino says:

    Anon:1) The quality of food is only as good as the quality of the soil and environment in which it is grown.2) If you want to have delicious food, you have to support the people and environment that produce it.3) I am very lucky to live in San Francisco, where it is easy (and relatively affordable) to make Slow Food a way of life.

  3. Jed Wolpaw says:

    Wow, that post made me:1. Jealous2. Hungry

  4. Jed Wolpaw says:

    The good news: I purchased a crock pot todayThe bad news: Not sure what to do with itI sort of thought I would unwrap it and it would magically fill itself with delicious slow cooked savory things. I must have gotten the cheap kind cus it didn’t do that at all.Plan B: Darya, got any good crock pot ideas? 🙂

  5. Darya Pino says:

    jed:I don’t have a crock pot (slow cooker) myself, but there are thousands of good recipes online. Here is a good place to start. Let me know how it goes!!

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