SLOW FOOD WORLD – Among The Film Buffs

Introduction. At the Clermont Ferrand Festival in France in February, I was wandering around the various cinema stands in search of shorts on food to take to Slow Food on Film 2004. At the Irish Film Board desk someone gave me the business card of one of the organizers of the Cork Film Festival (already 48 editions strong!). Some months later correspondence began between Bra and Cork to investigate the possibility of twinning the two festivals. A month and a half ago, Una Feely, the organizer whose details I’d taken, contacted me out of the blue and asked: “Why not come and be one of our judges?”. So, in my new role as Cork Film Festival Judge of National Shorts, I landed at Cork airport on October 15. The other two judges were producer Jane Hooks and Mary McCarthy, the artistic director of ‘Cork, European Capital of Culture 2005’. There was a footnote in one of Una’s last e-mails: “We thought we’d dedicate an evening during the festival to Slow Food. Would you be willing to make a short introductory speech?”.

When Valentina, my girlfriend, and I arrived at Cork the sky was gray and it was very windy, but it wasn’t as cold as I was expecting. Everyone was very friendly and informal right from the beginning. I tried to get my ear attuned to the accent while I was flipping through the folder from the Guest Office which detailed my program. My stay continued right through the Festival, until October 20.

I met Una and Mick Hannigan, Festival Director, for lunch. They took me to Café Paradiso, the delightful vegetarian restaurant considered by many to be the best place to eat in the city. Before we ordered the waitress poured golden Spanish olive oil onto a small plate—rather as the Japanese do with soy sauce for sushi—and left us happily dunking the excellent home-made bread to pass the time while waiting.

I was shown the two elegant volumes published, with great success, by the restaurant’s owner-chef Dennis Cotter, containing all his best recipes. (There is also a good portrait of him in black and white in the book Slow Food Ireland – A Guide to all that is Slow Food in Ireland, a publication of which all Cork’s Slow Food members are justifiably proud.) In the Café Paradiso book, the color plates of the dishes really made by mouth water and my appetite, which had been killed off by KLM’s cold sandwiches, rose to fever pitch.

The starters finally arrived.

While we enjoyed a delicious ‘roasted yellow tomato soup with basil, pine nut and red pepper salsa’, Mick, the Festival Director, pale eyed and with a salt-and-pepper goatee beard, explained what he had in mind for the evening. The idea was to present the Slow Food movement to the people of Cork, preceded by tastings of food and good wine, then show Slow Food Revolution. This is a documentary which was made by an Italo-Australian team led by Gabriella Pignatelli (author) and Carlo Buralli (director), with a good budget underwritten by Film Australia. It is a cavalcade of ‘slow’ personalities and ‘slow’ stories from all over the world, from Italy to Mexico to, naturally enough, Australia.

It shows the Turin Salone del Gusto and the Slow Food Awards held in Turin and Bologna. There are the moving stories of Raul Garciadiego (LINK) and Raul Antonio Manuel, who re-established the ancient cultivation of amaranth and vanilla in Mexico; there is Alan e Susan Carle’s Australian botanical Ark (these are all Slow Food Award winners), there are the lemons of Sorrento and San Marzano tomatoes re-established by Slow Food Presidia. There is, in short, a good taste of the amazing cross-section of humanity involved in the old-new international agriculture that the Slow Food snail has helped to unearth and bring to our attention over the last decade. The 52-minute film is just right for introducing the Slow philosophy to an interested public.

In Cork, I was told, interest in Slow Food is on the increase and the local Convivium leaders (Giana Ferguson for West Cork, and Clodagh McKenna and Meredith Benke for East Cork) are highly active. I agreed to present the documentary and, as best I could, Slow Food in its entirety as well as, obviously, the Slow Food on Film Festival.

Meanwhile the main course arrived. They have the habit at Café Paradiso of making a whole poem out of the name of each dish, so much so that you have time to change your mind twice over while you are ordering. We tried a ‘chard leaf timbale of leek, roast pumpkin & hazelnuts with a gabriel cheese & caper cream, puy lentils with rosemary, and braised chard stalks’, and I took a second starter, the ‘vegetable sushi with pickled ginger, wasabi and a dipping sauce, and tempura of green beans and aubergine’. Dessert brought the meeting to a close: ‘fresh figs in port with almond sponge biscuits and an orange & cardamom mousse’ for me, and ‘baked pralin-stuffed pears with maple butterscotch sauce and green apple sorbet’ for Valentina.

Having finished off lunch with the diluted coffee, more like a tisane, that they serve here, I took a nap in the hotel, then it was back to the same area of the city, literally just a few meters from Café Paradiso, to the Kino, one of the Festival rooms, where the film was to be shown. It was literally heaving. People were trying cheeses and nibbles (some of them prepared by Dennis Cotter) and drinking red wine with broad smiles on their faces. The moment for my speech arrived and, with Clodagh McKenna, one of the East Cork Convivium Leaders at my side, I stepped onto the podium.

The film met with great success. On the way out, people were picking up information, asking questions and generally showing great interest.

Shortly after, Valentina and I went along to the superb English Market in central Cork to see some old Charlie Chaplin shorts, accompanied by a live pianist. If you are ever in these parts, do treat yourself to a visit to this wonderful permanent covered market. It is a real institution, and the only one of its type in Ireland. Dating from 1610, although on its current site from 1786, it has been stocking high quality seasonal foodstuffs ever since the large English ocean-going ships were obliged to call in at the nearby port of Cobh before taking on the transatlantic crossing (hence it being named the English Market).

The evening concluded with a pizza together with an authentically Slow group: Clodagh McKenna, Meredith Benke and Rory Allen, chef of the famous restaurant Ballymaloe (half an hour away from Cork by car to the east), as well as the brother of Darina, one of the cult personalities of Irish gastronomy, director of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and…

But that’s another story.


Café Paradiso
Vegetarian Restaurant
16 Lancaster Quay
Western Road, Cork

The English Market
Princes Street, Patrick Street and the Grand Parade,

Cork Film Festival

Stefano Sardo ([email protected]), a novelist and screenwriter, is the director of the Slow Food on Film Festival

Translation by Maureen Ashley

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