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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).
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.
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
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
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 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."
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
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.