Slow Food Philly released its first batch of “Snail Approved” restaurants, breweries and markets that are furthering Slow Food’s mission.
Jennifer Prensky and her husband Mitch Prensky follow the food supply chain to their restaurant on South Street, Supper, pretty closely.
Each weekday, Mitch Prensky travels to their farm in Newtown Square, approximately 20 miles west of the city. There, he picks the produce that they use in dishes on that day’s Daily Harvest menu, among other menu selections at the restaurant.
Jennifer Prensky said that her husband has been cooking local for 26 years–before it was “all the rage.”
“He goes and picks [produce] every morning and brings it back to the restaurant,” Jennifer Prensky said. “You open the trunk and there’s all these vegetables and it’s the coolest thing. You see where it’s coming from–you pull it out of the ground, and then have it on the table that night.”
The Prensky’s use of local ingredients drew the acknowledgment of Slow Food Philly, a branch of an international organization dedicated to increasing peoples’ attention to the origins of the food they eat.
“Our menu changes seasonally,” Jennifer Prensky said. “It’s important in ‘doing local’ to do whatever the season dictates.”
On Nov. 14, Slow Food Philly hosted its first “Snail of Approval” event at Reading Terminal Market. Using its logo, a snail, they branded the products of more than 20 local restaurants, food and drink artisans and markets as businesses that further the organization’s mission.
The event showcased businesses’ products, from gourmet dinner items to beers, wines and whiskeys, to fresh produce from local farms. DiBruno Brothers brought a sampling of cheeses. Fork, Fare and Pumpkin Restaurant and Market were a few restaurants to bring dishes for sampling. Supper served a jerusalem artichoke bread pudding.
“The most important requirement was, ‘Are there local purveyors you’re doing business with?’ There needed to be a major local connection but we recognized the markets as much as the restaurants,” Joe Brandolo, the president of the Philadelphia Slow Food chapter, said. “We wanted to get consumers more familiar with some of these restaurants, markets and what is available out there in the city and region–the people who are doing original things. It was a lot of promotion in that regard.”
Brandolo caught wind of Slow Food through his work in the food and wine business. Today, he serves as Slow Food’s president, while working for Winebow, a national wine company that imports wine and spirits.
The foundation of Slow Food is often illustrated by what Brandolo called a mythical story that took place in Rome. According to the story, Slow Food’s founder Carlos Petrini, a journalist in Italy, saw the first McDonald’s open its doors in Rome. The store’s existence triggered questions about traditional cooking and foods.
From there, Petrini founded Slow Food in Italy in 1986 as an effort to preserve regional and traditional food preparation, cuisine and farming practices. In preserving these methods of preparation and the meals themselves, food biodiversity is also protected, along with species and varieties of plants and animals that are indigenous to specific areas of the country and world.
“What he saw wasn’t that McDonald’s came to Rome–what he saw was a drastic change on several levels and a break down of the family meal,” Brandolo said.
Brandolo described the relationship between Slow Food’s principles and fast food business as a “misnomer.”
“It’s not so much the anti-McDonald’s, it’s more anti-what fast food represents,” Brandolo said. “It doesn’t appreciate flavors, meditation at tables and the experience of enjoying flavors of the meal. The time spent at the table is at the core of other issues that were the result of that breakdown.”
The restaurants, food and drink producers and sellers who have received the snail of approval shared the stories of where their food comes from at the inaugural event.
Andrea Luca Rossi, the chef at Cichetteria 19, an Italian restaurant that serves up Venetian cuisine just north of Rittenhouse Square, hosted a gnocchi making demonstration at their table at the Slow Food event. Many of their ingredients come from C19’s farm, Grateful Acres.
Rossi explained the beauty of the simplicity that is his gnocchi recipe, which uses all fresh ingredients, such as butter that was churned that morning from local cream.
“We’re taking our time making gnocchi tonight in honor of Slow Food,” Rossi said. “The idea is to use all local ingredients.”
Rossi also acknowledged the economic benefits of using ingredients grown at nearby farms, rather than paying the extra cost of transportation. On the menu at C19, nothing is priced more than $19.
“You can feed 20 people with $15 when you use seasonal things,” Rossi said.
Beyond the creative dishes served up by local restauranteurs, Brandolo and Slow Food aimed to recognize not only chefs and restaurants cooking sustainably, but the producers who grow the food that ends up on their tables. In their first batch of snail approved businesses, Common Market, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and Zone 7 were a few of the local food purveyors to share their stories and talents.
“[We wanted to] honor food production, the fisherman, the person who raised the beef, pig, chicken and the time it took to raise that food item, rather than the celebrity chef who can put four ingredients together and be on TV and win awards,” Brandolo said.
He used what he referred to as an old adage in the wine world to illustrate his point about recognizing the first step in farm to plate food consumption.
“You make good wine from good grapes,” Brandolo said. “It sounds simple, but Barolo, [Italy], Burgundy, [France], all these places can produce these particular quality of grapes, and making it [the wine] that becomes part of it, but it’s peripheral to the core of the grapes. If you put them in California you’re not making anything close to Barolo.”
Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.