Slow Food Nations, Denver, Colorado: Food for Change

The energy was palpable and positive, generous and forward thinking – for both years of this marvelous festival SLOW FOOD NATIONS – 2017 and 2018.

Mid-July these last two summers, hundreds of organic farmers, ranchers, brewers, chefs, food activists and more descended upon Denver’s Larimer Square for a grand, beautiful summit and cultural display of what it looks and sounds like to reject corporate agriculture and food processing – producing the whole spectrum of foods and beverages in sustainable, small farm, small batch, DELICIOUS ways while tackling food waste and world hunger, helping to grow the Slow Food movement in this country while sustaining and elevating the world wide organizing of Slow Food International.

The first year of the event, 2017, held personal highlights for me – meeting vegetarian chef/cookbook author Deborah Madison for the first time. I had reveled in, and been inspired by two of  her cookbooks back in the late ’80’s and early 90’s, (earlier years of my own career as a Colorado chef) – The Savory Way and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – they are still on my shelf today. Deborah was the founding chef of the iconic Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, working as well at Chez Panisse prior to that. I also was elated to hear Chez Panisse’s founder Alice Waters speak, and then – along with a large crowd –  international rock star of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini, speaking on “the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture.” We also watched Chef Daniel Asher of River and Woods and Acreage, among other projects – prep a food demo at the farmer’s market, with great attention to the local flavors available. I put together a little slideshow of the few photos I managed to take of the one glorious day I attended.

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This year, as a writing contributor for Edible Denver-Boulder-Fort Collins magazine, I received a press pass, enabling complementary attendance to attend all the events I could get to – and celebrate this paid food writing gig! I was thrilled. I ended up able to make it down for Saturday only, but took in just as much as we could that day, as well as listening from home to about 5 hours of the Summit talks that were generously streamed live (and still available on the website) for those of us unable to attend.

The weekend was HOT HOT HOT. Fabulous “hot” and swelteringly, 102 high Fahrenheit temperatures hot – on Saturday at least. Sunday, as I got to glimpse on a few little videos – had a cooling reprieve where festival goers and chefs toughed out and probably at least in part reveled in the rain that drenched Denver that afternoon and evening.

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I didn’t get to personally hear or meet celebrated Italian chef and “Waste Not Want Not” Food For Soul activist Massimo Bottura –  and here – a regret I may carry for a long, long while. But I hear … that his worldwide organization Food for Soul may be expanding to Denver, and I’ve corresponded with them that I’d love to be on the team any way I could to volunteer/assist. So… who knows! Perhaps in the future we shall be in the same Denver kitchen, chopping vegetables together. 🙂

I DID get to see, here and eat plenty, though. My son and I valiantly made it through eight hours or so in the roasting Colorado heat on Saturday, July 14, armed with beverages from the Edible Beat Street vendors (I especially loved Stem Cider’s new Hibiscus Sessions light and refreshing hard cider). The Taste Marketplace was an amazing spread 56 food related vendors between Market and Larimer Streets off of 14th. From De Medici Imports absolutely divine Villa Manodori dark cherry aged balsamic vinegar made famous by Massimo, to local eastern Colorado grain farmers, Bee Squared Apiaries whiskey barrel aged honey, incredible roast strawberry coconut gelato from Gelato Boy and soo much more, it was a spectacle of wonderful, big-hearted people all with a common denominator – quality food grown in sustainable ways. Organizations were represented too – National Resources Defense Council, Edible Communities and regional Slow Food organizations – like Slow Food Western Slope, hailing from my beloved former home of Paonia in the North Fork Valley.

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Edible Communities SFN booth and regional publishers ❤

Moving beyond the Taste Marketplace, North Fork Valley area environmental activist Pete Kohlbenschlag spoke on a Fracking and Food panel – I captured a little video clip below:

We also heard a bit of the Intro to the Farm Bill talk, and strolled around to take in just as much as we could that day. Finally, we were hanging out, gearing up for the Global Street Food Social open air dinner event in the square, and I got a photo, perhaps looking a bit wilted but still very happy:

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Street Food Social just getting going. We were glad to have been among the first to enter!

I so wished I had a couple more arms and hands to take photos of each of the dishes 16 Colorado chefs prepared for the social. Israeli, Italian, Korean, Latino, Asian, French, New Orleans, …. and on and on … it truly was an impressive feast.

My heart and soul was perhaps most drawn to traditional cook of Purepecha gastronomy – Benedicta Alejo Vargas. She had taught The Art of Tortilla Making earlier in the day, and was making tortillas by hand for the dinner event. Three types and colors of corn ground and completely prepped in the traditional ways by hand. Enjoy the few photos I got of the process, and finished tacos.

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Benedicta Alejo Vargas // Fortuna Chocolate (Slow Food Mexico)

You can spot Benedicta’s metate, or grinding stone, and the three varities of corn in the tortilla dough molded on top of it. For each tortilla, she scraped off a small portion of the masa dough with the stone, then shaped it into a round, patting it out to the desired thinness before placing on the grill.

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Sienna Trapp-Bowie (sunglasses) & Benedicta Alejo Vargas // Fortuna Chocolate (Slow Food Mexico) — as well as Chef Rick Bayless in the blue shirt just in front of me, sampling his taco 🙂

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Hand made tri color corn tortillas cooking – we watched many being made – then the tacos being prepared, along with iced Cacao Horchata

The heat was utterly incredible. I was glad Benedicta took a break from it, not long after we received our plate.

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The food – was incredible too. I’m in such gratitude for being able to attend this wonderful event, especially accompanied by my son, my biggest food fan.

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The practices of eating local, cooking “slow food” rather than buying fast food, standing up for the rights of the earth and the people who live upon her, the waste not want not lifestyle, are all dear to my spirit and are practices I have long lived by. I know that’s why the Slow Foods Nation annual festival so close by in Denver is an event that I feel completely aligned with when I attend, where the energy of each person I have met feels open hearted and inclusive, with the collective mission behind them not only for sustaining themselves and their own livelihood, but for the rights of all, within every culture and nation, to be celebrated and supported in the huge, ongoing efforts to feed the people.

Blessings to all, and thank you, thank you, to Pachamama, Mother Earth – presence, soil, water, air, and capacity to grow. You are cherished, and we are fighting for you, with love.

**For Slow Food Nation’s “Snapshot of 2018”, a summary of the highlights and take-aways, link here.

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