The Annual Bale Mill Harvest Dinner is approaching!

Third Wave Coffee Tasting: Thursday, March 21st @ Yo El Rey Roasting, Calistoga

1217 Washington Street, Calistoga, CA 94515 • (707) 942-1180

First there was Folgers, then there was Peet’s, and now there are artisanal roasters offering “third wave coffee.” Calistoga’s Yo El Rey Roasting is part of this American phenomenon, and proprietor J Kirk Feiereisen discusses coffee like Napa Valley folks talk about wine. He mentions the nuances of bean varietal and growing region, techniques of flavors extraction, and strategies in food pairing. The beans he buys are organic and predominantly fair-trade — characteristics also promoted by Slow Food International.

Please join Slow Food Napa Valley on Thursday, March 21st at 7pm for a talk on organic free-trade coffee, a demonstration roasting, and cupping by Feiereisen. Tickets for this limited event are available for $20 at Brown Paper Tickets and include the demonstration, coffee tasting, a bag of coffee to take home, as well as chocolate by TCHO and snacks courtesy of Rip van Wafels.

Edible Education Conference: Wednesday, Dec. 12th @ Summerfield Waldorf, Santa Rosa

Slow Food’s Fresh Food Picnic: Saturday, September 15, 2012 @ Rancho Mark West, 11am to 6pm

Please click on the image for a larger view…

Movie Review: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Directed by David Gelb

For those moviegoers who are hopelessly food-obsessed, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” will no doubt leave some viewers yearning for a bit more, but maybe that’s to be expected. After all, with more than 75 years of experience in the kitchen, 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono has developed a wealth of culinary knowledge that probably exceeds that of anyone before him, and arguably exceeds that of anyone in the present day. With so much culinary expertise at the core of the film, those who cook for a living, or even those who qualify as serious home gourmets, will almost certainly become fixated by the ingredients and techniques in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (these are the same viewers, no doubt, who will instantly recognize Joël Robuchon during the film’s opening sequence).

If you’re at all like me, you’ll spend much of the movie wishing that there was more explanation from the kitchen at Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ono’s famed 10-seat Tokyo sushi bar. I craved more theory, and more insight. At other times during the film, you might even daydream about a quick trip to Japan for the 20-minute, 30,000-yen lunch, as I did. And during the more inspiring segments, you may even briefly consider the cost-benefit ratio of a 10-year apprenticeship under a sushi master, the ultimate plunge. However, for most normal people, for those with just a casual interest in cooking or eating, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” will simply offer its viewers a sufficient and engaging glimpse into the mysterious subculture of the shokunin.

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For better or worse, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” portrays its subject in rather broad strokes, focusing exclusively on the relationship between fathers and sons, chefs and vendors. Granted, these relationships are the heart and soul of the movie, but with barely even a nod to the role of the women in Ono’s life, the “human” aspect of the documentary does feel slightly incomplete and under-researched at certain times. As the film addresses Ono’s childhood, for instance, the great shokunin implies that his father had succumbed to alcoholism early on, but Ono never offers any information about his mother. The audience is left to wonder.

Perhaps we can assume that, living in Japan more than 80 years ago, Ono’s mother was powerless to do much about her own situation, but if Ono was essentially orphaned at age nine, where was she? And where did he go? These types of questions can become somewhat distracting when left unanswered (or unasked). Perhaps Ono didn’t care to address his mother — at least tell us that much. An even more glaring omission is the fact that the film mentions almost nothing about Ono’s wife, except that she seems to have raised his two sons — and stretched a meager income — while Ono spent countless hours perfecting his craft.

Of course, I’m not claiming that Ono’s wife should be the hero of the story, but “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” fails to even mention if she’s still alive or not, and she could’ve certainly added a unique perspective to the documentary, even if their marriage was indifferent (again, I’m merely assuming). On the other hand, one could ultimately argue that the film’s limited perspective is the simple reflection of Ono’s male-dominated universe: Not only does traditional Japanese culture skew towards the chauvinistic, but the culinary world does as well. One might also argue that Ono was “married” to his profession. Either way, considering that the documentary was directed by a Westerner, 28-year old David Gelb, I still say that “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” needed a bit more backstory.

Despite these general criticisms, however, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” does succeed in several other areas, and it features several transcendent moments of culinary bliss. In terms of its general cinematography, the film’s heavy color saturation can be borderline pornographic at times, especially during the akami close-ups. I’m all for it, however. Without the benefit of smell and taste, the sushi has to appear extra-appetizing in order to convey its real-life deliciousness.

Aside from the film’s amazing culinary footage, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” also provides the audience with far more laughs than one might expect from this type of documentary. As a devout perfectionist, Ono remains steadfastly serious and passionate about his profession, yet he often reveals an impish charm that compliments his sage wisdom. Many people, even Japan’s top food critics, seem intimidated to dine at his restaurant, yet on camera and behind the scenes, Ono seems engaging, approachable, and eminently hospitable.

On a more serious note, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” also scores points for addressing the issue of over-fishing, a subject which is actually becoming tantamount to Ono himself. As the quality of fish declines, the quality of sushi will continue to suffer. Indeed, the startling black-and-white footage of yesteryear’s massively-sized bluefin tuna should be equally as alarming as the enormous mountain of styrofoam outside of today’s Tsukiji fish market.

Slow Food Napa Valley’s Holiday Cookie Exchange 2011

What will 2012 bring?

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted its inaugural holiday cookie exchange at the Silverado Brewing Company this week, and the spoils are pictured above. Recipes will be posted online soon. Happy holidays!

The SFNV Holiday Cookie Exchange!

Tuesday, December 13th
5:30 — 7:30 pm
Silverado Brewing Company

SFNV invites its members to share their favorite holiday cookies while meeting other members, sipping Domaine Chandon bubbles and Silverado Brewing Company beer.

We will have a contest for the “group favorite” cookie and the “most local” cookie (those entering their cookie in the “most local” category must list all local ingredients on the recipe). Prizes will be awarded in both categories!

To join the festivities, simply bring 2-3 dozen of your favorite cookie, plus 20 copies of the recipe (please do not put your name on the recipe — the cookies will be tasted anonymously). In the event that any cookies are left over, please bring a container to take home some extras.

After deciding on your favorite cookie, stay for dinner at the Silverado Brewing Company! 20% off your dinner if you are a member of Slow Food Napa Valley.

This event is FREE, but in order to help us plan accordingly, please RSVP at Brown Paper Tickets by Monday, December 12th.

Reminder: A membership to SFNV makes a great holiday gift! You will be able to renew and buy new memberships at the event.

Food Day: Monday, October 24th

Food Day seeks to bring together Americans from all walks of life — parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes — to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Food Day is in partnership with Slow Food USA and the Napa Local Food Advisory Council. Please click the image for a larger view of the flyer.

If you’re interested in attending, please click here to register for the event through Napa Valley College.

Slow Food Napa Valley Brunch @ Ehlers Estate, September 2011

The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck this September, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A look at the just-finished pig inside the Caja China.

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The Mulefoot hog, just a couple hours into cooking.

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The Ehlers Estate line-up. Delicious.

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Ehlers winemaker Kevin Morrisey (far left) talks shop with SFNV members.

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The Ehlers Estate tasting room, built in 1886.

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Debbie Fradelizio (left) and Corrie Beezley (right) greet SFNV members as they arrive for the potluck with baskets in hand.

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One very impressive apple pie.

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A beautiful honeycomb and cheese platter from Marshall's Farm.

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Heirloom tomato platter.

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In Ehlers Estate's BioDynamic vineyard.

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Flowers outside the Ehlers Estate tasting room.


Book Review: “Au Revoir to All That” by Michael Steinberger

I suspect that in middle America — and perhaps anywhere else the Western world — most people would assume that the French have cemented their reputation as the world’s culinary avant garde. It’s certainly a fair assumption. Not only have the French enjoyed an enviable culinary tradition for the last two centuries, but Western pop culture has reinforced this idea again and again. The notion of sophisticated French cuisine has become an enduring cultural archetype both here and abroad, as seen recently in movies like 2007’s “Ratatouille,” or even going back 20 years prior, to the Danish film “Babette’s Feast.” Within the media, French cuisine has been portrayed as the Western standard for decades now, and pop culture has continued to reinforce this hierarchy. Even one of America’s earliest and greatest culinary icons, Julia Child, had deep roots in French cuisine.

But for those who have been following culinary trends for the last 10 years, the center of culinary relevance has slowly shifted outside of France. As author Michael Steinberger points out in his book “Au Revoir to All That,” several factors have contributed to France’s declining culinary influence, including the nation’s poor economy and its general complacency, the rise of chef Ferran Adriá and Spain’s nuevo cocina, the increased competition of fine wine from the New World, and the recent “franchising” of French chefs in overseas markets, such as Las Vegas and New York. Of course, based upon its long history of culinary contributions, France will still continue to enjoy a large stake in the game, but its chip count has steadily eroded over the years, and perhaps for good.

With each chapter, “Au Revior to All That” delivers an insightful analysis of the French malaise, supported with thoughtful and compelling research. Steinberger also provides many terrific first-hand anecdotes along the way, making the text both approachable and engaging. What surprised me the most, however, was a statistic in the book’s seventh chapter, titled “Fast-Food Nation,” in which Steinberger reveals that France has become the single-biggest market for McDonald’s outside of America. Talk about undermining some deep-seated stereotypes — the French have actually embraced the Golden Arches? While it may still be true that most Westerners might still give France the benefit of the doubt when it comes to gastronomy, in reality, globalization seems to have cost France far much more than it has gained.