For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

March 19, 2012

"Mangiare e Fare l’Amore"

Photo by egle

Yesterday I had the immense honor to listen to a great man. The founder and president of the Slow Food movement Carlo Petrini addressed a full house in Helsinki last night. Being the overly emotional person that I am, I found myself applauding this charming and charismatic man from the town of Bra, Italy with tears of joy in my eyes. Dear readers, if you still haven’t heard about Slow Food you should correct that with the speed of lightening! In a nutshell, Slow Food is all about preserving and fighting for good quality food worldwide. The ingredients of good quality food according to Slow Food are good/tasty food, clean food and fair food. “If one of these criteria is missing, there’s no quality at all”, Signor Petrini explained with a determined face.

Food has people talking and the masses are (Thank God) opening their eyes more and more. But why do we need all this fuss around food? Isn’t it just a trend? Well, the answer to that question will certainly divide people’s opinions, but if you ask me, or Signor Petrini for that matter, we need to talk about food now more than ever before. And trends have nothing to do with it.

In the past, food didn’t travel the four corners of the world to get on our plats. Seasonality was embraced, respected and followed. It created natural diversity in accordance with Mother Earth. Then came the wave of capitalism and with it also the contemporary plague – consumerism. On top of that, people started traveling long distances for leisure. Soon it wasn’t enough to savor a beautifully ripe mango somewhere in in Africa or South-East Asia, no, the mango had to come to us to any cost. Neither was it enough that the poor little mango travelled halfway across the world to make us happy, no, it had to be of perfect shape and size, the prettiest mango of all. Paying customers started having improbable demands on availability and accessibility. And that’s when it all turned upside down.

Signor Petrini pointed out that at a first glance it seems that food today is all about recipes, sharing them, comparing them, getting ahold of the best ones… But brace yourselves; recipes make up for only 10–15% of gastronomy! Gastronomy – the practice of choosing, eating and cooking good quality food – is a multidisciplinary domain. It’s equally about history and anthropology as it is about economy and medicine for example, and the list goes on and on. This is precisely the reason why I get so disappointed when I hear someone saying they write a food blog and when I check it out it’s overloaded with recipes, one after the other. Why don’t we talk about food like we talk about the next presidential elections or the economical crisis? Without food there wouldn’t even be a next president to talk about, let alone an economy for us to fuck up.

Signor Petrini revealed himself to be a non-believer, “but if I believed in God”, he said, “I’d thank Him for making the two most vital acts of human kind – eating and making love – so immensely pleasant and enjoyable”. In my country, if you ask me, a frighteningly big amount of the people have forgotten both how to relish in food and take ecstatic pleasure of two bodies becoming one. All that matters is safety and whether it’s healthy or not. Everything is restricted and socioculturally controlled. Limits, limits and more limits. I really hope the people listening yesterday went home hungry and lusting… I sure wouldn’t have minded getting acquainted with one of the many Italian chefs present at the lecture ;)

We have come such a long way from Nature. Nature has become so unnatural that we need to add the word ‘nature’ or ‘natural’ everywhere, especially when talking about food (or making love love for that matte). But it should all be natural – NATURALLY! Unfortunately, it is no longer so and that makes my very sad indeed. Signor Petrini said something that really shocked me. He rattled the crowd by actually thanking McDonald’s! At first it was like he had pronounced the name of the Devil, but then he explained to the audience that without McDonald’s and fast food there might not be Slow Food either. And he’s right. The human kind always seems to only learn the hard way…

As a conclusion I’d like you to ponder over something Signor Petrini said. He said that what is absolutely insane in today’s world is that people spend more money on loosing weight than on they do on eating! At first I gasped for air, that’s how astonished I was. But come to think about it, it might actually be true. I have to admit that even I felt a bit guilty. When I first started studying and moved away from home, the content of my fridge was most of the time composed of nothing more than the little lamp and some dry old potatoes. Somehow I still managed to purchase a gym card with a membership fee too expensive to even say out loud, shame on me! But I was vain, young and foolish, what can I say. Nowadays, I’m proud to inform you that it’s quite the opposite and I can't even see the little lamp. A good friend of mine came to my place a few days ago and got very surprised when opening my fridge: “It’s full, you’ve got so much food!”. Yes indeed! I don’t know about the other vital act of human kind, but I surely eat good every single day!

The value of food is so much more than its price. Next time you have to choose between some magic diet pills and good quality food according to Slow Food standards, do yourself and your environment a favor and go for the latter. Be aware of the pleasure good quality food gives you.

Grazie dal cuore Signor Petrini!

March 13, 2012

Special Delivery

Almost all people appreciate a special home made gift. If it’s something edible, it’s even better. I love preparing something special for someone special. But for me it’s not quite enough to cook or bake a dish that tastes goods in general. Pleasing someone with food can be rather challenging if the aim is to satisfy that one particular person’s taste to the point. How awfully embarrassing isn’t to be invited for dinner and to discover that what’s on the menu is something you simply can’t bear?! Or even worse, something you’re horribly allergic to! What a disaster. I think that a well-chosen and well-prepared dish is the perfect way to prove that you really know and care about a person dear to you. Who wouldn’t be flattered of a custom-made meal?

Not long ago I certainly outdid myself in customizing food. A dear friend of mine who has a minor fetish with Hello Kitty decided to throw a party at his place. Well of course it wasn’t just any party, it was a Hello Kitty party. Fearing that he would ask all invited guests to come dressed up as big headed pink kitty-cats, I discretely asked him for more details. I must say he had me for a second and I started inventing ways to get out of the situation. But I guess he judged by my face that I was slightly horrified so he was kind enough to correct himself. Finally all he wanted was for all guests to bring something Hello Kitty related with them to the party. I was relieved. I really couldn’t see myself dressed up as a Japanese cartoon figure.

For me it meant just another culinary challenge and I was game! Obviously the end result had to look like Kitty. That was certain. The twist was to make her taste perfectly exquisite in my friend’s mouth. After structuring a list of five main ingredients that would both fit together in general and do the trick considering my friend’s taste, I had it nailed

Making a culinary profile of someone you think you in depth is probably harder than you might think. Sweet or savory, creamy or fruity, light or heavy, simple or complex, warm or cold…are just the first criteria that come in mind. If the person in question follows a specific diet, has fully excluding dislikes or suffers of an allergy or an intolerance, the recipe search immediately turns into a much more demanding mission.

The way I see it is that choosing to make the most suitable dish according to someone’s particular taste and to serve a specific purpose is like choosing the right dress-code/outfit for a given occasion. Since one usually doesn’t wear a pyjama to the opera, why should one serve convenience food to someone only eating organic food? It seems ridiculously straightforward and simply, but it’s a very common gaffe I must say. If you don’t know whom you’re really cooking for you better get to know the essential dos and don’ts. If it’s impossible than don’t go for something too special or too complicated. I know, easier said than done. Most of the time I can’t even take my own advice to be honest. Like tonight, I decided to bake something that I could bring to an important appointment I have tomorrow morning. I told myself a thousand times to keep it simple and do it good. Try guessing whether I follow my own advice?

No, I didn’t. Anyway, my creation is now done and waiting to be eaten. One special delivery coming your way! I hope it won’t be a complete flop. Fingers crossed!

March 2, 2012

Something's Cooking All Right

Looking from the outside in there are fascinating things going on foodwise in Europe all the time and as we speak. It's especially in the Nordic countries (commonly but slightly incorrectly also know as Scandinavia) where something new and fresh is definitely cooking! The New Nordic Cuisine Movement – an innovative and rather new movement for Europe, but certainly so for the rest if the world – is blooming and the "Nordic taste" is turning into a widely recognized and appreciated concept, challenging for example the reputed and renowned, prestigious and flavour-rich Mediterranean cuisine that European food most often is known for outside our continent.

Not a 2010s movement per se as the New Nordic Cuisine Movement has been on people lips and in the making for quite a while already, but it's now that even the mainstream public is starting to get to know this new trend. Why now? It's not so far fetched since noma – Danish chef and food guru Clause Meyer's restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark won the British trade magazine Restaurant's price of World’s Best Restaurant in 2011. noma with Claus Meyer as head captain is giving rise to a whole new movement in the Nordic culinary culture. As they describe it themselves, noma represents a “Nordic gourmet cuisine with an innovative gastronomic take on traditional cooking methods, fine Nordic produce and the legacy of our shared food heritage […] a revival of Nordic cuisine and let its distinctive flavours” (noma's official website).

But there's much more to this movement than noma since it is all about putting back in place the natural limits and conditions that once fully determining human accessibility to food. What's naturally (biologically) and geographically own to our culture and our taste is being uplifted, and stopped regarded upon as constraints and/or culinary handicaps. It's something 100% positive to us and our environment. It's certainly also about elevating the Nordic taste and Nordic culinary culture to the same pedestal as its most refined French and Italian rivals. What Nordic cuisine has to offer has been stipulated in the Manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen adopted by the Nordic council of ministers. In ten points the manifesto states the fundamentals for the New Nordic Cuisine Movement. The message and main aim are rather honest and straightforward. The indisputable main criteria widely agreed upon in the Nordic Region are that of seasonality, purity, essential simplicity, respecting a certain moral and ethics and finally, beliefs of significant health benefits for humans and the nature we live off.

In Finland, Finnish food is going through similar revival. Finland, known familiarly as the little brother of Sweden might come one step behind the more known Nordic countries, but Finnish input and distinctiveness, nevertheless, shouldn't be underestimated or simply labelled under 'Scandinavia'. I really disapprove of that I must say! Obviously and undeniably, Finnish cultural heritage and also food culture both have their origins in Scandinavian or better Swedish culinary traditions and sometimes it might be hard to wholly separate one from the other. However, the Russian influence on Finnish food culture and taste is not to be dismissed. Herein lies the uniqueness of Finnish cuisine today. Not fully Scandinavian, a touch Slavic and Russian, rather Nordic but still fully Finnish.

I'm very happy to see this development and it has made me think even more about what my own personal taste is, what it represent and where it comes from. I wanted to share this with you, dear readers, now as I'm writing my Master thesis on this exact phenomenon/issue. Thesis writing is darn lonesome by the way and I feel like I'm loosing it several times a day. I guess I simply wanted to share this with all of you and inform you that I'm still here as hungry as ever for new information, new vibes and above all new tastes! If this post gave birth to same awesome and intriguing ideas that might be useful for me ( ;) vink vink), hit me (hard enough) with an email: edithsalminen[at]gmail[dot]com and share your mind with me.

Until then, wish me luck, long nerves and good sprit. Pretty please.