he Three-toed Tree Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) of Central and South America is like a combination of a silly, smiling circus clown and a really slow aerial acrobat-with green-algae growing on its fur, and with smelly scent glands. It has a boring, leafy diet mostly of the giant-lobed leaves of the Cecropia trees of the Neotropics. Despite this somewhat unpromising resumé, the Three-toed Sloth is the poster animal for slow food in Costa Rica, mostly because they are really, really, slow. Sloths do things differently than nearly every other animal. They live, eat, mate, and give birth upside down. This is another reason to picture the sloth as the champion of slow food--they buck the trends, and do things differently. These animals can only live in warm, humid environments and are quite at home in the rainforests of the Neotropics. Finca Luna Nueva has many of them slowly climbing through the trees and eating, always with that ineradicable grin. They must know something about Finca Luna Nueva. When they look down, they see similar ineradicable grins on the faces of the guests and visitors to this jewel of sustainability and biodynamic, organic farming near Arenal volcano. If Bradypus variegatus could understand how good the human food those guests were eating was, that furry, smiling slow poke might smile even more broadly. After females give birth (slowly, no doubt) to a single pup, the young ones wean quickly, but stay with the mother only for a few more months. Weaning and becoming independent are the only things sloths do quickly. Then they slow down, and begin a slow, solitary life as an adult. This independence of the sloth is another characteristic which makes them good symbols of slow food lovers.
by Rousseau Limonaxit
The Great Race between the Sloth and the Snail The Snail is the symbol of the Slow Food Movement, but which is the slowest, the sloth or the snail? Let’s find out. First we’ll handicap the contestants. Although neither racer would look great in nylon running shorts, sloths would look better because they actually have legs and always wear that endearingly goofy smile on their faces. (Of course when they are upside down in trees, it looks like a frown.) Snails don’t have legs. They move by muscular contration of their body. They carry their shells with them, which covers their slimy nakedness. This might seem to slow them down, but, as we shall see, it does not! After the starter pistol sounds, snails tear off down the course at a blistering .00784 miles an hour. Bradypus comes lumbering in at .00010 miles an hour. If you are bad at math, this means a snail can travel a mile in 5.5 days, but a sloth would take 42 days to go that distance! The smiling winner (by losing) Bradypus variegatus!
Why Slowness? Slow is good. No matter what you are doing––almost without exception,––slow is better than fast. Certainly in the area of food and the ars amatoria-two of our most basic urges--slow is best. That’s what foodies and lovers can attest to from their experiences over the ages. Fast is bad. Think of Blitzkrieg, Shock and Awe, hedge fund traders, cars speeding on the highway, and especially fast food, which is produced by corporations from factory-farmed, genetically mucked-up animals, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and served with neurotoxic flavor enhancers, after having exploited farmers and workers and damaged the environment. Slow food may lead to slow love. We can’t make any promises here, but we know you’ll enjoy the slow food, even if it doesn’t lead to anything else. I knew a chef with some physical limitations in New Orleans a number of years ago. He was, and still is, an amazing gastronomic artist. He told me that his cooking was his instrument of seduction. He did not claim to be an obsessive kitchen Casanova, just that his exquisite slow food was his weapon of choice in the ars amatoria--the art of love. This magazine is dedicated to the ars gastronomica. Explore with us the benefits to life, taste, and the environment that slow food can bring. As journalist Roan St. John writes in the lead article, slow food is the next revolution. Can taste change the world? We think it can. --SD
The Gastronomic Journal of Finca Luna Nueva, Costa Rica. Finca Luna Nueva is a member of Slow Food International
Editors Patricia Spinelli Stephen Duplantier Art Direction, Design, & Production Stephen Duplantier Writers Roan St. John Rousseau Limonaxit Sloth photos by Ariel Tellatin All Rights Reserved Copyright 2011 Editorial Rizomas A division of the Center for Gulf South History and Culture, Inc. A 501(C)3 Non-Profit Corporation D. Eric Bookhardt, Director A Special Publication of Neotropica ISSN 1659-4657 Copyrights are retained by the individual authors and creators of the works. No copyrights on reprinted material and artwork have been intentionally violated. All use is fair use for educational purposes. Opinions expressed are solely those of the writers. No medical advice is implied or intended.
James Steven Farrell General Manager, Finca Luna Nueva Harold Eduarte Farm Manager Mauricio Solano Lodge Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about Slow Food activities, write to Patricia Spinelli email@example.com
Finca Luna Nueva Lodge A Costa Rica Hotel Phone Hotel Reception: (506) 2468-4006, 2468-0874 San Isidro de Peñas Blancas, San Ramón, Costa Rica
Slow Food holds on to values that oppose the frenzy that marks contemporary society.
Slow Food The Next Revolution by Roan St. John
verything that artist and chef Ernesto Spinelli does takes time. Lots and lots of time. Whether he’s working on the 8 by 70 foot handcut mosaic mural for the newly-renovated train station in Cleveland that he will install this year, (and which required six months of intricate fabrication), or cooking the perfect risotto with the Boletus edulis mushrooms he has hand-picked in the mountains behind his house in Colorado, it’s all very slow going. For Ernesto, the process itself is nearly as important as the final result. But then, he’s only carrying on his country’s––and his family’s––tradition. Ernesto’s devotion to the process began when he was a young boy in Italy. His father Vittorio was the ultimate contemporary Renaissance man. Besides having a passion for fine food, Vittorio also fabricated violins and cellos with inlaid mother of pearl and marquetry, raced bicycles, and even produced a superb wine on his farm in the country. But his chef d’oeuvre was supervising the construction of the Kolubi St. Gabriel Coptic church in Ethiopia, which is the largest of this early Christian sect in the world and was built at the behest of the Emperor Haile Selassie, for whom Spinelli worked for thirty years. Precision, detail, and perfection were his father’s trademarks, and when it came to food, there was no one more particular or finicky than Vittorio Spinelli. “Long before the Slow Food movement took hold in Europe, I was tagging along with my father who would set off early in the morning for a day-long excursion into the countryside, driv-
ing 110 kilometers from our village of Maccio to a farm outside Refrancore in the Piemonte to get Barolo and Barberra wine, Gorgonzola or Taleggio cheese, white truffles, and the famed porcini mushrooms. By then it would be noon, but the quest was not yet over. With the backseat loaded with his food treasures, we would then head for Calcini twelve kilometers away to get salami and prosciutto made from pigs who had only eaten one thing their entire lives: chestnuts. Why chestnuts? Because chestnuts give meat products a delicate sweet flavor that can’t be achieved if the pig ate just any old thing. It’s this magnificent flavor that prosciutto connoisseurs are after. If it all seems a little obsessive, I suppose it is,” he shrugs, “but the quest for perfect food products was the way my father had grown up in pre- and post-war Italy, so for me this was just part of our lifestyle – long before it became a trend. My father taught me that something as simple as a thick slice of country bread, brushed with fresh olive oil and toasted, then topped with a slice of Calcini salami, and washed down with the perfect Barolo was the epitome of the sensual Slow Food experience.” So what is Slow Food exactly? Well, it’s not food that’s been cooked in a crock pot. Slow Food exploded as a culinary movement in 1989, three years after Carlo Petrini (who hails from Bra near Turin, Italy, but was living in Paris at the time) organized a protest against McDonald’s to keep them from opening a franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome. At the time, fast
The Quotable Carlo Petrini
“The quest for slowness, which begins as a simple rebellion against the impoverishment of taste in our lives, makes it possible to rediscover taste. By living slowly, you understand other things, too; by slowing down in comparison to the world, you soon come into contact with what the world regards as its “dumps” of knowledge, which have been deemed slow and therefore marginalized. By exploring the “margins” of slowness, you encounter those pockets of supposedly “minor” culture that are alive in the memories of old people, typical of civilizations that have not yet become frantic—traditions that guide the vital work of good, clean, and fair producers and that are handed down after centuries of empiricism and practical skill. In coming into contact with this “slow” world, you feel a new (or renewed) relish for life, you sense the potential of different methods and forms of knowledge as counterweights to the direction currently being imparted to the tiller that steers our route toward the future. You reassess the elements of consumer culture, and in rural knowledge, you discover surprisingly simple solutions to problems which speed has made complex and apparently insoluble.” —Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair (2007, Rizzoli Ex Libris
food was just beginning to slither its way into the traditional food culture that was such a big part of Italian life, and Petrini was determined to stop it. And that he did. Now there are entire villages in Italy that prohibit any kind of fast food outlet. As revolutionary as it seemed twenty years ago, Slow Food had its predecessor – the Agricola, which was determined to maintain the purity and integrity of artisan food products for which Italy was so well known. The premise behind Slow Food is good, clean food based on hundreds of years of gastronomic traditions, and is a direct backlash against the multinational companies that are marketing mass produced, industrialized food for the general population.
unnatural diets, while aggressive, chemical-based agriculture is ravaging ecosystems from the Great Plains to the Kalahari. “Even with this sobering fact in mind, there was no shortage of critics of Slow Food who simply got it all wrong,” says Spinelli. “Their argument was that Slow Food is elitist and something only the rich can afford. But that’s not true at all. A diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables grown and available locally will always be less expensive than a diet of completely processed or packaged food. Everyone deserves high quality food, which mass produced food definitely is not,” he states emphatically. Lest you think that the Slow Food movement is confined strictly to Italy or France, nothing could be further from the truth. With its distinctive The premise behind Slow Food is good, snail logo marking its advances, the food revoluclean food based on hundreds of years tion has now spread to all continents with over of gastronomic traditions. 100,000 members who have organized into 1300 associations and more than 2000 local food alli The post-World War II economic boom saw ances to promote sustainable, healthy food. The the consumption of meat, cheese, eggs, fruit, recent anniversary of the movement was marked and sugar rise threefold, but it also separated the by celebrating the Tierra Madre food network consumer from the culinary heritage of rural Italy. of farmers and producers in 150 countries who Although those easily accessible items may have promote the benefits of food that not only tastes improved the quality of life for many, it also cut good, but is good for you, and is produced withthe ties that connected the consumer to the farmer, out harming the environment. The significance of and that’s where Petrini thinks things went horrithe snail logo is to promote eating well and eating bly awry. Ernesto Spinelli couldn’t agree more. consciously, and this takes a lot more time than “What Petrini did was elevate food consciousdriving to McDonald’s for a Big Mac. “We are in ness to a new level, making it very hip to search a global fight against the fast food and food proout the best food products available, and to actucessing giants, so Slow Food is a return-to-basics ally know from where your food came. The philosophy that seems revolutionary only because by-product of this knowledge was the establishan entire generation has been raised on massment of a personal relationship with those who produced food with no idea at all where their food produced it. When you support relationships with really comes from, or how it is produced. But in farmers and fishermen, or cheese makers, you also this troubling time of concern over global warmpromote the concept of eating locally grown food. ing, globalization, and a potential food crisis, Wouldn’t you rather eat fruits and vegetables Slow Food is the only thing that makes any sense. that were picked just before they went to market Plus the enjoyment of searching for gourmet food instead of having traveled thousands of miles on items in the area where you live can be immensely a truck, often taking as long as three weeks to get gratifying. It’s part of food enlightenment!” from farm to consumer?” When asked about how he envisions this revo As Petrini states in his book, Tierra Madre: lutionary movement spreading to Costa Rica and How to Keep Our Food from Consuming Us, other parts of Latin America, Spinelli is enthusipeople have been forced into standardized, astic and optimistic. “When I first started coming
“Live Slow and Prosper”
to Costa Rica five years ago, I was thrilled by the abundance and vast array of fruits and vegetables with which to create luscious meals. The feria (farmer’s market) on Friday afternoons is an artist’s palette, and that is where I go to choose what I will cook for the week. Whether it’s the volcanic soil in which food is grown, or the fact that produce is weeks fresher than what’s available in the States, the end result is that there is a dynamic to the food here that whets the appetite for more. My wife and I are predominantly vegetarian. Between the variety and the fabulous colors of the food, plus the intensity of the flavors, it’s really easy to be a vegetarian here. It’s so much more interesting––and healthy––than a diet of meat and potatoes. Getting to know the vendors at the open market in your neighborhood is a great way to build a new relationship to your food.” The Spinellis live in the countryside just north of San Ramón, and often joke that this area has more cows than people. For Ernesto, that is a real perk. “Just past our house is a farm where we buy all our dairy products––fresh-made queso palmito cheese that is a specialty of Costa Rica, plus fresh butter and milk straight from the cow. It’s really satisfying to know those cows are not being raised in a factory farm, but rather are out grazing the hillsides and infusing the milk with all the nutritional benefits that come from having been grazed on grass. Except in some few parts of the U.S., raw milk is illegal, so it’s a real pleasure to have free access to it here; besides, it is so much better for you, and the cows too.” For everyone who moves here, Costa Rica is a journey of discovery, and it’s no different for Ernesto. “Little by little I am learning about foods I have never seen before, or even heard of, but nonetheless, when prepared properly provide an interesting dynamic to our diet. Aracache is one of those items. That’s a root tuber that is ground up, then sautéed with garlic, onions, cilantro, potato, and a dash of achiote for coloring. Then there are hearts of palm. Combined with avocado, boiled shrimp, and a tarragon vinaigrette, well, it doesn’t get more exotic or delicious than that. Fresh hearts of palm are referred to as a
millionaire’s food, but here in Costa Rica, I can buy a half-kilo for about $1.50.” Discovering, experimenting with, and preparing new food is something Spinelli did during his 20-plus year career as a fine dining chef at the St. James Club in Antigua, and then in his own award-winning restaurants in the mountains outside Denver. His Baci Ristorante was a favorite of Julia Child, who ate there whenever she visited her niece who lived nearby. Spinelli’s restaurants specialized in Italian cuisine, and everything was of the highest quality, which is the reason they won awards. When asked how he would promote the concept of Slow Food in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America, Ernesto’s replies, “First of all, I would make it even slower.” He pauses for a moment as if in deep thought, then breaks into a big smile. “What’s slower than a snail? A sloth!” he laughs. “Yes, that’s it, Central America will have Sloth Food!”
Beaming with self-satisfaction, Spinelli then goes on to define Sloth Food. Instead of relying on others to produce all your food, Spinelli advocates having a small garden where you can grow a few items, even if it’s nothing more than a variety of herbs. “No garden is complete without a steady supply of basil. Not only is it a medicinal herb, but it is essential to a good pasta sauce made with those luscious red tomatoes from the feria. And don’t forget Italian parsley, which does really well
well here if you get the local variety. My wife here, and adds flavor and texture to almost any introduced me to what’s called criollo garlic. The dish. A lot of our culinary needs are met right here in our own neighborhood because some of heads and cloves are much smaller, but they are us have gardens that produce enough of one of so much more fragrant and pungent, and I have to two things that we can share. One neighbor has a believe are better for you than mass-produced Chipatch of sweet potatoes, the one food that several nese garlic that’s been fertilized with human waste, and doused with deadly fungicides. Right now we of us here really missed. It’s the old-fashioned have 75 cloves planted, which will take about four Louisiana sweet potatoes so ubiquitous in the States and which are so good for you. Luckily, months to mature.” Spinelli holds up a garlic braid that he made from the last harvest. “For a chef, it they are originally native to Central and South doesn’t get any better than this.” America so they will grow in any type of soil with very little water or fertilizer. Some of us Ernesto Spinelli envisions everyone’s particitook cuttings and planted them in our gardens, so pation in the Sloth Food movement starting with there will be no shortage any time soon. Another buying from local farmers, but also being responsible for growing a few items in your own garden, neighbor has plantains, which are also one of my newly discovered favorite foods, so we trade even if it’s just big pots of herbs to flavor and organic baby lettuces or herbs for a hand of plan- enhance what you bought at the feria. tains. I was also very happy when another neigh- “Why can’t we incorporate the best of Sloth bor started selling fresh eggs from his free-range Food–– organically grown fruits, vegetables, and chickens. Not only are free-range eggs healthier, coffee right outside your door, leaving you plenty of time to scour the countryside, as my father and I a backyard chicken coop doesn’t pollute the environment like factory farms do. Without even used to do, in search for that perfect cheese, freshhardly trying, the practice of Sloth Food is already smoked ham, or liter of warm milk with the cream still on top!” here!” Ernesto’s departing advice from his father Vit The most important culinary ingredient is torio: “Slow down. You’ll live longer and eat much garlic, which came under fire when it was better.” revealed that the majority of garlic available in Costa Rica is imported from China. “Garlic does •
Slow Food and Finca Luna Nueva
It would be hard to imagine a more perfect confluence of people and places. In Costa Rica on the road to Arenal Volcano in a lush rainforest sits Finca Luna Nueva––an organic, biodynamic farm. Just 35 miles from that magic spot is the home of expat chef Ernesto Spinelli, most recently from Colorado (where he previously owned award-winning restaurants) by way of Lago di Como, Italy. The pairing of these two forces is the genesis of the Slow Food movement in Costa Rica. Finca Luna Nueva, by virtue of the fact they grow a lot of their own food, was already doing, by definition, Slow Food, but under the watchful and critical culinary eye of Chef Ernesto, the plans are to refine those dishes and in addition, create a sumptuous menu from locally produced products that will put Finca Luna Nueva on the Slow Food map. For Ernesto Spinelli, Slow Food was what he was doing before it had a name, before it was a trend, and before it became an international food movement. By mid-year, Finca Luna Nueva will be not only a destination for nature lovers, bird-watchers, and adventure seekers – it will be a destination for beautiful Slow Food that will leave the guests hungering for more.
The Roots of Central American Cuisine
by Stephen Duplantier
Illustration by Stephen Duplantier
n their long march from Siberia to the tip of South America, the descendents of the nomadic Siberian hunters and gatherers found in Central and South America a bounty of food completely different than the seal hunting of their forebears in the cold subarctic regions. Amazonia's teeming green forests allowed the women gatherers to dominate culturally because they were as productive as the male hunters had been in provisioning their clans and tribes. What the women found, and then domesticated, were the edible plants that produced tuberous roots, especially the cassava plant. The indigenous people of Amazonia found in the enormous biodiversity of the forests a vast store of plants that have become the medicines and foods of the world. Amazonia's prize, cassava, has spread around the world wherever the plant can grow in the earth's tropical zones. Cassava is so popular that it is the third most consumed carbohydrate in the world.
Grating cassava, Amazonian style In Central America, one of the focal areas for cassava’s domestication, is called yuca by the Spanish speaking populations. It is important as a source of calories, and even more important economically because it can be grown all year long in home gardens and small fields of the campesinos in a self-reliant home economy. No trip to the seed store nor cash is necessary. Cassava propagates very easily from cuttings, requires no
fertilizer or chemical sprays, and it remains pest-free because of the natural toxins in the leaves and root tubers. Once the toxins are removed by washing or cooking, the cassava yields a, starchy food that can be turned into a variety of tasty and nourishing preparations. This is a staple that is easy and free to grow--a most valuable commodity. You can’t grow wheat and rice like you can grow cassava.
The Ubiquitous Food of the Americas It doesn’t matter where you go from Mexico to Patagonia, you can find people eating cassava in many different ways. In Belize, cassava is traditionally made into bammies, a small fried cassava cake tradition inherited from the Afro-Indian population of Garifunas. The cassava root is boiled, sometimes with other vegetables, grated, washed well, salted, and pressed to form small flat breads, These are fried, dunked in coconut milk, and refried. Bammies are used as breakfast bread, with fish dishes or eaten alone as a snack. The Garifuna also make a cassava bread called ereba prepared using a Pre-Columbian technique of first straining the grated cassava of its toxic juice. The cassava is then dried for hours and strained through flat baskets to make a flour that is baked into flatbreads on a griddle. Ereba can be eaten with fish, pounded together with green and ripe plantains or eaten alone with a gravy. In Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, yuca is usually served is cooked in the soups such as olla de carne. Yuca pairs well with fried pork chicharrónes, and sometimes it is served mashed together with plantains. On the coasts of Central America, yuca may show up in a Honduran Conch soup. Salvadorians fry a yuca patty and pour miel de caña over it. In Panamá, people make carimanolas, which is boiled cassava pulp mashed with a little flour into a flat round, then filled with spicy beef or chicken and folded over and fried to make a filled dumpling. There are nearly endless uses for this versatile, free or inexpensive root that has been feeding the peoples of the Americas for millennia--and not only feeding people. Cassava is used to make chicha, the famous fermented liquor of the indigenous people of the Americas.
Dried cassava root being pounded into flour to be put in boiling water to make “luku” (fufu) in Ban-dundu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Nick Hobgood
Africa presents a fascinating cultural geography of cassava. As part of the Colombian Exchange of plants and animals, cassava went east and bananas, plantains, and coffee, among other things, went west. Cassava did very well in Africa. The starchy tuber not only grew easily, it became an essential item in the smallscale village gardening cultures all over Africa. It is eaten by simply peeling, soaking and frying small pieces which are then salted and eaten together with hot chilies (another gift of the New World to the Old). Que Yucaton! The world’s biggest casasva root? The Guiness Book of World Records does not have a category for gigantic cassavas. These monsters continually show up as curiosities in the newspapers of the Americas.
In South America, where Manihot esculenta was first domesticated, it is extremely popular. In Colombia, it is made into enyucados-- small rolls of cassava fried with various fillings. In Bolivia, it is eaten as a bread in daily meals. It is essential in the cuisine of Brazil where it is consumed as farofa, a lightly toasted cassava flour that is mixed into a variety of dishes, especially the daily rice and beans. In Ecuador, it is consumed in place of bread and potatoes. Cassava is an essential component of the cuisines of Paraguay, Peru and especially Venezuela, where it shows up in nearly every meal. The full variety and diversity of the uses of cassava deserves an entire book (a mission of the Taste Project of Perezoso and the Slow Food movement enthusiasts at Finca Luna Nueva). In summary, cassava can be considered to be the wheat of the New World, an absolute staff of life. It would be unthinkable for hundreds of million people in the Americas to go for a day without their yuca in one of its many manifestations. It's not just the New World that loves this gnarly root. The Old World, especially Africa and tropical Asia, can't do without their cassava. In Malaysia, cassava kept the population alive during the Japanese invasion and occupation of World War II. Cassava is an important staple in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka,Vietnam, and in Oceania. It would take an extensive culinary geography to describe the variations possible with this versatile staple food. This is part of slow food’s mission to explore, discover, and consciously evolve the basis for the growth of taste. The place to begin is with the staple foods that people know and love.
Cassava is also used to make fufu--the African dumpling-like bread substitute. Fufu is made by pounding boiled cassava in a large pestle until it takes on a smooth, mashed potato-like consistency. It is served in a soup, stew, or gumbo in a baseball-sized lump. To eat such a dish, the diner breaks off a chunk of the fufu and presses a small hollow in it to make an edible spoon, then the diner scoops up some of the spicy meat, vegetable, and soup mixture and then pops it all into an eager mouth. Fufu can be made out of any starchy vegetable such as plantain, maize and potatoes. The advantage of cassava is the ease of growth and the fact that it can be a home-produced staple food, making it a high foodvalue garden crop. •
A typical soup of Ghana and West Africa: meat cooked in water and Dende oil (unrefined palm oil) with the required handful of fufu. What you can’t see are the hot red chilies that make this soup so memorable.
Chef Ernesto with a basket of the roots of Central America
Ernesto Spinelli’s Yuca Gnocchi One pound of peeled, boiled, and mashed yuca root One egg Half cup of flour Pinch of salt and white pepper Dash of nutmeg 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese Mix thoroughly by hand, working the dough until it is no longer sticky (add flour as needed). Roll into thin rope, cut into half-inch pieces, then imprint with your thumb. Drop into pan of boiling salted water. They are done when they float. In the meantime, melt butter, a few leaves of fresh sage, gorgonzola or mild blue cheese, and cream in a large sauté pan. You can add a few teaspoons of the gnocchi cooking water to keep proper consistency of the sauce, which is to just coat, not soak, the gnocchi. When the gnocchi floats, remove from boiling water with slotted spoon and place in sauté pan until all pieces are coated in sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.