The legend of slow food
The area around Alba, Italy, is where the concept of slow food originated. The legend goes that three charismatic guys from Bra (just south of Turin, in Piedmont) were invited for an important lunch at a beautiful hall in a small town. On the way to their destination, they were really excited about the great food and posh surroundings that awaited them. It turned out to be the worst lunch they had ever eaten. A huge buffet for 530 guests, the lunch was composed of classic dishes, all poorly cooked and all abused for the sake of numbers. This lack of care and disrespect for the food seeded in them the idea that every Italian has the right to eat—and be able to afford—food that is cooked the way it should be.
The whole story is longer and more complicated than that, but that is what stuck with me. To me, slow food is a way of bringing ingredients from the farm to the table the way it should be done and the way we have a right for it to be done. Here in North America, we are missing out. Meat is not hung long enough, our milk is pasteurized, and our pork industry is overworked. My grandfather asked me why he can’t find sweetbreads anymore (years ago, he ate them on toast on Sundays). It turns out most meat companies don’t bother with them. We have everything we need in Ontario: vineyards, rich land, century-old farms, great artisanal cheeses and a hungry interest in food.
With Union, I want to take advantage of that as much as I can. I want a stage—not so much for me but for our local farmers. I will play the director, making sure it all goes well. If we don’t protect the little guys, we’re going to lose them and their art, and that is going to put us in an inescapable culinary hole. You can be a great chef, but if you can’t get your hands on anything good to cook, you are screwed. I don’t just want a restaurant. I want something bigger, with more importance than just bringing food in the back, cooking it, and selling it in the front. I want to break it down and slow it down. I want to find rhythm and method in the business so I can keep it genuine and simple, so I can honour what the farmers are working so hard to make right. Besides all that, I find it’s easier to create when I have restrictions to work within—keeps me from being overwhelmed.
Now. I just have to build the damn place first.