Slow food is not just the opposite of fast food. Behind it is a philosophy and movement that seeks to preserve authentic cultures and protect the planet through a holistic cooking experience. Begun in Italy in 1986, the ideas behind the movement have garnered popularity all around the world.
Cyrus Todiwala is the highly successful and innovative Executive Chef of Café Spice Namasté in London. He is renowned for his ability to fuse British and Indian dishes together to create a unique culinary experience. I caught up with him in Cape Town to find out his opinion on the Slow Food movement. Is it just a fad or an important direction for cooking patterns?
Q: What is your unique cooking style?
A: I use raw materials from anywhere in the world and try and marry them to traditional forms of cooking from the subcontinent of India. I like my food to be simple and coming from the heart. Fresh, clean and good quality raw materials are the basis of all cooking. An important belief in Indian culture is that “food is your medicine.”
Q: What are your ideas about the Slow Food movement?
A: I am strongly involved with this movement. I am at all the Slow Food exhibitions in Britain now. Slow Food to me is not new at all. Slow cooking is quite simply reminding man that he has forgotten how his ancestors cooked. Man must learn to respect the earth. We must go back to seasonal cooking by not killing the earth and impregnating it with too much fertilizer. With slow cooking you want the meat you are eating to have had a good life. That means not killing the animal in a few weeks. It’s about respect for the planet, animals, human beings and nature.
Q: Do you think this movement can be implemented in a restaurant setting?
A: It can be. If all Indian restaurants, for instance, were to cook in a classical format, their food would be slow cooked anyway. When it comes to cooking meat, there is no excuse why a restaurant can’t do slow cooking. With slow cooking, you get very in depth and prominent features and flavours. Nowadays, people use artificial essences like chicken stock, powder and meat essences. They wouldn’t need to do that with a different approach. But life is busy. We need to strike a balance between how the way things are done and how they should be done.
Q: What do you think of the perception that Slow Food is just a passing trend?
A: I think the information from the people who are pioneering the movement is not being filtered the right way. Everybody wants media attention. They think that is how a product is launched. So, it is becoming a fashion issue instead of a health issue. They can do it better to educate people. If they can achieve this, it will not look like fashion. Slow Food is a term that most people don’t understand. An ability to slow cook will be lost if it doesn’t pass down through the generations.