Bobby Trigg

Terhune Orchards

Jim Weaver

Slow Food Movement

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This article by Tricia Fagan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 18, 1999. All rights reserved.

Sure Pleasures of Slow Food

How could Gershwin have gotten it so right? As this

long, hot, far-too-dry summer saunters into the dog days of August,

"Summertime" provides the perfect soundtrack: a little lazy,

a little plaintive, and, oh, so sweet.

Late summer in New Jersey can confound you with its fragrant, sultry

moods and its ripe generosity. And even in this year of appalling

drought, the state’s rich soil and heroic farmers have once again

yielded an abundance of the wonderful crops — corn, peaches, and

that Jersey tomato — that remind us why we can, with good conscience,

continue to call ourselves the Garden State.

There are as many different ways to take advantage of this bounty

as there are citizens in New Jersey (and we all know that’s a heck

of a lot of people). The industrious among us are already canning,

pickling, and putting up. Fresh fruit pies are reappearing, zucchini

bread is back in favor, tomatoes are simmering down into that special

sauce. But for those of us who may savor summer’s sloth almost as

much as we do its fruits (and even for the rest of you busy bees),

a very special celebration of food is being served up this weekend

— Har-Fest 1999, the first public event of New Jersey’s first

chapter (or "convivium," as it calls itself) of the international

Slow Food Movement.

Tre Piani Ristorante in the Forrestal Village will host this event

on Sunday, August 22, from 1 to 5 p.m. At that time four chefs from

premier restaurants in central New Jersey will pair up with area farmers

to showcase the state’s tomatoes, corn, peaches and honey with tastings

of specialty dishes — like lobster and corn bisque with bacon

— cooking demonstrations, wine and honey samplings, and informational

seminars on the crops. Tickets, which can be bought in advance or

at the door, are $15 for Slow Food members and $25 for non-members

($10 will be deducted from the admission price for anyone who signs

up as a member that day).

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Bobby Trigg

Chefs at the event will include Bobby Trigg of the Ferry House on

Witherspoon Street, Patrick-Yves Jerome of Stage Left in New Brunswick,

Valerie Butler of Squire Pub Restaurant in Long Branch, and Jim Weaver

of Tre Piani — who is also the principal organizer of Har-Fest

1999. Participating farmers represent Corner-Copia in East Windsor,

Ellis Farms in Yardville, Lee Turkey Farm in Hightstown, and Giamerese

Farm in East Brunswick. John Specca of Corner-Copia has seven different

types of heirloom tomatoes growing right now that will be available

for tasting. Also, anyone with tomatoes, corn, or peaches in their

home garden that they want to show off is welcome to bring them in

for the comparison tastings that will take place all afternoon.

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Terhune Orchards

Award-winning Unionville Vineyards will be offering samples of their

1997 Windfall Reisling, Terhune Orchards participates with fresh peaches

of the season, the New Jersey Tomato Council offers comparison tasting

of this regional staple, and even the New Jersey Beekeepers Association’s

president will bring several varieties of the state’s excellent honey.

Also on hand for the day will be agricultural experts including radio

show host Pegi Ballister-Howell, consultant with the New Jersey Farm

Bureau. The country music band, Bandit, will perform throughout the

day.

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Jim Weaver

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Jim Weaver — executive

chef and partner at Tre Piani and founder of the Central New Jersey

convivium of Slow Food (the state’s first) — has an aura of calm

and good humor that belies the hectic pace and precision timing his

job requires. There’s no sign of tension or preoccupation as he talks.

Instead he brims with enthusiasm about the whole Slow Food movement,

the New Jersey group, and the upcoming Har-Fest.

Weaver is particularly excited about the Slow Food concept because

it offers something for so many different groups of people who are

interested in the producing, preparing, or eating of good food. "The

benefits for professionals and food producers who are getting involved

are pretty obvious," he says, "but I believe that the benefits

are equally strong for the general public. To me, this is about is

teaching people how to taste. There’s such a difference between a

New Jersey heirloom tomato fresh-picked off the vine and those baseball-hard

pale tomatoes that you get in the dregs of winter at the local supermarket.

And all the good things that happen when you slow down to a enjoy

a really good meal at home or eating out are important to remember."

When Weaver received his first "Slow Food" brochure in the

mail this past winter — he had no idea what it was about. The

organization, based in Italy, had been founded in 1989 as a half-serious

reaction to the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish steps in

Rome. An indignant Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini, led a protest

movement against the fast food "restaurant." McDonald’s won

the battle, but the protest continues in the form of an international

grassroots movement of people committed to "slow food" that

now claims 60,000 members in 35 countries around the world.

The brochure, which includes a strongly worded, if slightly tongue-in-cheek

"Official Slow Food Manifesto," highlights the group’s cultural

agenda — described, in part, as protecting small food producers

of quality products, promoting a philosophy of pleasure at the table,

educating the tastebuds of both children and adults, safeguarding

traditional food and wine heritage, and helping those in need. Investigating

further, Weaver checked out the group’s Web site (http://www.slowfood.com),

and was impressed with what he found — so impressed, that he decided

to start a central New Jersey convivium instead of simply joining

as a member.

"They echoed a lot of the same things that I feel about food and

quality," he says, "and were doing some really exciting stuff.

I thought that some good things might come out of starting a chapter

in New Jersey. The timing seemed perfect, and when I learned that

there wasn’t anything organized yet in the state, I decided, `Why

not start something up and see what happens?’"

"I’m pretty good at organizing myself and the people who work

with me in the kitchen," Weaver says, "but I was totally clueless

about how to get something like this going." Rather than create

something by himself, Weaver gathered together a diverse group of

like-minded people and asked their impressions of the Slow Food idea.

He included people he knew, but also reached out to groups he wasn’t

familiar with who he felt might be interested.

The first gathering included a food writer, a marketing consultant

to the New Jersey Farm Bureau, a chef friend who works for a local

wine importer, an East Windsor farmer, and some of Weaver’s associates

at Tre Piani. Another person at the first gathering was Valerie Butler

of Squire Pub Restaurant. "Valerie was actually the first person

I reached out to," Weaver says. "The international headquarters

had sent me the names of the Slow Food members in the state —

there were five — and I wrote notes to each of them explaining

what I was thinking of doing. She got in touch with me right away."

The group met for the first time this past March. "I kind of induced

everybody to come here by offering free food," Weaver says. "We

talked about all sorts of possibilities and ended up getting very

excited about this whole idea." Each convivium determines what

types of activities work best for its area. Referring back to Italy,

Weaver explains that he has no plans to politicize the central New

Jersey convivium. Instead he hopes to focus on educational outreach

of all sorts. "I’m certainly not going to be going head to head

with any fast food providers," he says. "For one thing, I

think there’s a place for them. Frankly, I’d love people to try both

of us out — because that would make my case for slow food even

stronger."

Although he has been cooking in restaurant kitchens for 20 years,

Weaver’s own interest in good food began on the other side of the

dinner plate during his childhood in Harding Township, Morris County.

"As a kid, eating was something I was always interested in,"

he says. "Cooking was something that I did as a hobby. Also my

family did a lot of entertaining when I was younger, so I think I

got interested in it that way, too." Weaver was the oldest child

in a family that included "mother, father, two sisters, a dog,

and a cat." His father is an architect, and his mother, a psychologist

— although, Weaver adds, "…she’s never figured out what’s

wrong with me!"

Even with a degree in restaurant management from New Hampshire College

(Class of ’82) under his belt, Weaver believes that his decision to

be a chef was more a matter of fate than design. "I got lucky.

At first I started cooking in restaurants just because it was a good

job for a high school kid. But I found out that I really liked it.

In college, when I had to declare my major," he says, "I already

had the cooking experience, so I just chose restaurant management.

It has really worked out."

Aside from his four college years in New England, Weaver’s only other

extended period out of New Jersey was the year he spent on the island

of St. John in the Caribbean a few years ago. "My fiancee studies

hurricanes," he says, "so we were down there doing research

for her dissertation."

Weaver hopes that the Slow Food concept spreads to other chapters

throughout the state. He’s already talking about ideas for future

networking between local farms, food group producers, and central

New Jersey restaurants. "It’s going to be fun for me to find out

exactly who’s out there," he says, "because as a chef in New

Jersey, you end up having to buy everything from New York and Pennsylvania

— so the price goes up while the quality goes down. That’s not

right. If you can find producers right here, it’s going to help farmers,

it’s going to help restaurants, and ultimately it’s going to help

the customer."

The convivium is also planning to offer public education in the area.

"We want to offer programs in the schools," Weaver says, "and

wherever else where we can get a group of people together who will

listen. We want to teach them how to taste, how to develop their palates,

how to use special ingredients, how to cook with regional foods —

all those things."

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Slow Food Movement

Weaver also hopes to continue expanding membership in the Slow Food

Movement. Members may attend any Slow Food function in the world,

including the gatherings of the Central New Jersey convivium. Members

also receive a one-year subscription to the group’s quarterly journal

"Slow" (with in-depth articles on food culture and related

lifestyle issues from around the world).

Trying to describe what he hopes Slow Food will accomplish locally,

Weaver offers an analogy. "In Europe," he says, "at mealtimes

all the shops close down, and everybody sits — usually with a

good bottle of wine — and enjoy the meal, whatever it is. It’s

always fresh food in season, usually it includes specialties from

that region. They really savor their food — they know what’s on

their plate, where it grew, how that dish was made, it’s history.

They know everything about almost every dish that comes out. They’re

truly educated consumers.

"Here you don’t have that. A lot of it is because of the hustle

and bustle of our fast-paced life. Today the younger generation doesn’t

usually have the opportunity to enjoy meals with their family the

way people did in the past. Spending time at the table is a lost art

in a lot of ways, too. I think it’s important for people to remember

that spending time over a great meal is a good thing — and that

even though it may not be feasible to do every day, it should be something

they make time for and really enjoy. And I want to teach people that

those kinds of meals aren’t just available at restaurants. You can

create these kinds of meals for yourself at home."

It’s summertime, and the living is pretty easy. Why not meander at

a leisurely pace to Forrestal Village and give yourself a treat: great

fun, great company, great food — courtesy of Slow Food.

— Tricia Fagan

Har-Fest 1999, Slow Food, Tre Piani Ristorante,

120 Rockingham Row, Forrestal Village, 609-452-1515. Summer tasting

event with chefs, farmers, and vinters of central New Jersey. Country

music by Bandit. Web site: http://www.slowfood.com. $15 members;

$25 non-members. Sunday, August 22, 1 to 5 p.m.


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