Story by Andra Zeppelin
An international festival of food and culture, Slow Food Nations returns to Denver from July 13 through 15. It is the second year for the one-of-a-kind event, and Food for Change is the theme reigning over the weekend. Did you go last year? Well, organizers are doubling down on the things the public loved and focusing efforts on providing the most concentrated experience for those who attend from near and far. Are you totally new to it? Expect to hear culinary stars from across the globe, taste the foods of many kinds of artisans and share experiences through the specific lens that a meal can provide. All over a three-day period peppered with events that will hit the spot for every kind of interest.
Now that your calendar is locked for mid-July, let’s go back a bit in case a refresher is needed for what exactly will be happening. Slow Food was born in Italy over three decades ago. The goal was to bring “good, clean and fair food” for all. A European reaction to American fast food, the nonprofit organization spread through the old continent and gradually to some 150 countries around the world and focused on advocacy, education, access and the overall promotion of local food, traditional cooking and support of farming. Since 2004, the organization has convened members in Turin on a biannual basis for the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto. Delegates and guests from around the world meet, discuss issues, share ideas, exchange solutions in a convivial friendly way, glued by beautiful food. The one-year-old United States equivalent of that gathering is Slow Food Nations.
Denver hit the jackpot to become the permanent host city for the event. It is an honor to make the Mile High City the capital of the food world for one weekend every summer. This fast-growing market in the West gets to show off its thirst for being among the best and brightest but also its ability to raise the bar for sustainability, creativity and inspiration when it comes to all things food.
Slow Food Nations is free and open to the public, with some ticketed workshops, talks and tastings. It is an inclusive celebration of the one thing we as humans share regardless of our backgrounds or hardships, no matter the religion or skin color, and even regardless of food preferences: Our hunger for knowledge, the pleasure of eating, a common interest in keeping our planet healthy so that all can be fed now and in the future.
The weekend of events is expected to draw 25,000 people to downtown Denver who will participate in more than 50 different tastings, dinners, workshops and family-friendly events devoted to sustainably sourced food and drink. Among them are Friday night’s Colorado Fare tasting event and the Taste Marketplace, an open-air tasting pavilion and market.
“Slow Food USA aims to inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair,” says Richard McCarthy, executive director of Slow Food USA. “It's really time to change the food system, which is responsible for great environmental damages and for a fifth of the emissions causing climate change. A real alternative is possible, and we want to show it at Slow Food Nations.”
Here’s the exciting part: There is an extraordinary roster of internationally acclaimed luminaries, experts in various aspects related to food, who will descend into Colorado to soak up sunshine and knowledge and to unload their wisdom and experiences. Featured speakers include chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana and author of Bread Is Gold, Deb Eschmeyer, former executive director of Let's Move! and senior policy adviser for nutrition policy at the White House, and Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.
Bottura holds three Michelin stars for his restaurant in Modena, Italy, but has also made a name for himself for his advocacy on eradicating food waste through social inclusion. Through his nonprofit project, Food for Soul, the chef featured in the first-ever episode of Chef’s Table (Netflix) found a way to bridge hunger and waste. He has opened several “refettorios” around the globe, a model that he plans to replicate in the United States (perhaps even in Denver) in the next couple of years. A refettorio is an evolved sort of soup kitchen, one where human dignity reigns supreme, art and beauty are weaved in the program, and perfectly good foods headed for the landfill are reimagined by creative chefs into meals served to those in need. Denver has a growing population in situations of social vulnerability, so his perspective is particularly relevant.
Now a Colorado resident, Deb Eschmeyer‘s résumé is proof that you can do it all and never compromise. Her career has taken her from farming in Ohio to policy making in Washington, DC, and now to the role of vice president for communications and community affairs at DanoneWave. Fortune and Food & Wine named the Ohio native among “The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink” permanently changing the way we eat and how we think about food. The James Beard Foundation and Xavier University honored her commitment to public service with leadership awards. Her passion is bringing good food to all, and she is using her position in the 26 billion dollar multinational corporation that is Danone to do exactly that.
Raj Patel has been described as the “rock star of social justice writing.” London born, he is an award-winning writer, activist and academic who serves as a research professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He is not only outspoken but very knowledgeable when it comes to access to food. He, too, was honored by the James Beard Foundation with its Leadership Award and has at one point served as an adviser to Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
The three of them are examples of the caliber of speakers that will join the discussions but also of the diversity of perspectives that they bring to the table. Those varied points of view are complemented by people like Daniela Ibarra-Howell (CEO and co-founder of the Savory Institute, which promotes holistic grasslands and livestock management), John Ikerd (an author focused on sustainability with an emphasis on economics and agriculture), Woody Tasch, Slow Money (an organization that aims to offer funding to small agricultural operations) and Poppy Tooker (a radio talk show host in New Orleans).
Chefs Alon Shaya and Steven Satterfield of New Orleans and Atlanta, respectively, are returning to Slow Food Nations. Shaya will be fresh off of opening his first Denver restaurant, Safta, an Israeli-focused eatery located in RiNo. Also returning is chef Rick Bayless of Chicago, whose ceaseless work in promoting authentic Mexican cuisine brought him much worldwide recognition.
Some of the local culinary talent includes Daniel Asher of Boulder River & Woods, Top Chef Masters finalist Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja and Euclid Hall as well as Stoic & Genuine and Bistro Vendome, Sheila Lucero of Jax Fish House, Paul Reilly of Beast + Bottle and Coperta, Alex Seidel of Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provisions, and others.
Three days, hundreds of attendees, dozens of inspiring events: It is one not to be missed.
Here’s a rundown of events as described by the organization.
Friday, July 13
The weekend will kick off with an opening dinner in Larimer Square, Colorado Fare, celebrating the best flavors from Colorado. Featuring local ingredients, from the high country and the plains to the southwest deserts and the urban environments of the state’s major cities, the night will feature tastings from the state’s best chefs, artisanal brewers, distillers, cheesemakers and more. Tickets are $65.
Saturday, July 14
The centerpieces of weekend—Taste Marketplace and Eat Street—are open to the public and take place both Saturday and Sunday. Taste Marketplace is an open-air, free-entry marketplace that takes over the streets of downtown Denver. Visitors leisurely sample, shop and meet the makers behind our food while engaging in experiences throughout the market. Eat Street is a weekend-long pop-up bar and food court in Larimer Square aimed at slowing visitors down by getting a fork into one hand and a beverage into the other. Guests will be able to gather in the lounge and purchase craft beer and cocktails alongside tasty bites from featured chefs.
Saturday and Sunday will also feature ticketed workshops in various locations around Larimer Square, including:
● A guided tasting of American honey paired with local cheeses and breads
● Lesson on the ancient process of making traditional Mexican tortillas
● Tasting of sustainably sourced oysters from around the globe
● An artisan salumi tasting, exploring the importance of sourcing and the story of where your meat comes from
● Cooking with heritage grains in your home kitchen
Simultaneously, there will be a series of summits, designed as a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities facing food in the 21st century: “The Buzz about Biodiversity,” “When Disaster Strikes,” “Farming for the Future” and “Waste Not, Want Not.” The day will wrap up with an evening tasting event, the Global Street Food Social, which will explore the most delectable artisanal street foods of the world presented with unlikely but wildly delicious global drink pairings. Tickets are $65. Guests will roam Larimer Square from bite to bite.
Sunday, July 15
The final day of the event will include more workshops, as well as another chance to wander the Taste Marketplace and Eat Street tasting pavilions. The weekend wraps in true Slow Food fashion with a Zero Waste Family Meal served family style in a communal setting, using food waste captured at the festival. Tickets are $40.
For the complete schedule of events and to find more, visit slowfoodnations.org.