Take it easy: Slow Food creeps into town

If you're a fan of the homegrown bounty on display at the City Market, of locally grown produce bursting with flavor, of deliciously varied artisanal cheeses, or of leisurely, sit-down lunches savored with a glass of wine­ then you'll be glad to know that the Slow Food movement is creeping its way towards Charlottesville.

Now that many are starting to question the strung-out virtues and chemically enhanced vices of fast food (and all it represents), the day seems to be coming when, as Paul Cézanne predicted, "a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."

For Charlottesville, that day will come on September 25, when the still-congealing local chapter of Slow Food U.S.A. debuts with a tasting of Virginia-inspired cuisine and wines orchestrated by chef Mark Gresge of L'étoile.

The tasting will be followed by a companion lecture on Futurism and F.T. Marinetti (the early 20th century Italian avant-garde movement lauding all things fast), which is itself a companion to the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival's performance of Aaron Jay Kernis's postmodern piece, "The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine." Talk about a multi-paced, multi-tastes evening.

"We weren't preparing to launch so soon," explains Slow Food Virginia interim director Sue Knapp-Steen, "but this Futurist event seemed like the perfect time to introduce Charlottesville to Slow."

You don't need Dish to define fast food (check out the recent book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser for some juicy details). But let me tell you about Slow Food. Like so many of the best things in life, Slow Food International began in Italy in 1986 in response to the infiltration of a McDonald's near Rome's prized Piazza di Spagna. Basta! (enough!) cried founding founder Carlo Petrini, a journalist and culinary missionary from Piedmonte (think silver beef and Barolo).

Concerned that the industrialization of food was homogenizing taste and rendering thousands of food varieties extinct, Petrini rallied his friends, drafted a manifesto, and– presto!– the Slow Food movement was born.

Its emblem? The snail. It's mission? To encourage "taste, tradition, and the honest pleasures of food" via educational programs, protection of endangered (by mass production) foods and seasonal local cuisines, publications, and land stewardship. Today the organization is active in 45 countries with a worldwide membership of over 65,000, including members of the brand-new local chapter of Slow Food Virginia.

It took a transplanted northeasterner, former dancer and opera fundraiser Sue Knapp-Steen, to recognize how ripe Charlottesville was for a Slow Food chapter of its own. Encouraged by the interest of several locals (including Kate Collier of Feast! and chef Rachel Greenberg of L'avventura), by the lush beauty of the landscape, and by the recent burst of local food purveyors, she presented Charlottesville's case to Slow Food USA. The snail smiled.

"Charlottesville is already so much of what Slow is about," says Knapp-Steen. "We need to treasure what we have and not let it slip through our fingers."

In addition to several upcoming tastings and events, Slow Food Virginia is already working with local schools like Clark Elementary, teaching youngsters how to garden, cook, set a table, and enjoy. No TV required.


Fuji gets a new name

 On a totally different note, the restaurant formerly known as Fuji re-opened on Sunday, September 7, as Asian Buffet. Dish popped her head in last week to find servers busily wiping down seats and mopping floors, getting ready to welcome hungry new customers.

Renovations, which the restaurant's owner, Gui Chen, gave as the reason for the brief (two-week) closure, were not readily apparent to my eyes. But Andy Chen, Gui's brother and acting manager, pointed out a new hibachi grill in one spot and a recently stripped grill in another.

"We don't want people to wait," he said. But why the name change? It seems that generic Asian attracts more diners than Japanese.

"People wanted more Chinese food, not only sushi, so we've added many more Chinese dishes," Chen says. Returning customers will notice one evident and appealing change: lower prices.