Pistachio

Jeff Crump’s Slow Food From Earth to Table

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
— DaVinci

I met Jeff in 1999, when we were both sous chefs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He worked in the restaurant, and I was on special events, so we never worked side by side, but I kept my eye on him, because his ideas were always very interesting to me.

He favoured simple executions with high-quality ingredients, constant reminders of the influence of Alice Waters, of one of his culinary heroes, and mine as well.

Waters was famous for telling her cooks, “Humble yourself in front of your ingredients,” which made a lot of sense to me. It was about how the cook would honour the ingredient’s best qualities and bring that to the plate.

Often, just before lunch service, I’d wander over to Jeff’s station to see what he’d done for the day’s special. My favourite was a treatment for the fish of the day, a sauce of olive oil, lemon, parsley, currents, capers and pine nuts.

As he showed it to me, he ran his spoon through the sauce to show its characteristics. Everything was fresh, balanced and simple. I knew immediately how it would taste and saw that each ingredient’s flavour had been given its due, and that all together, they would deliver something they couldn’t on their own.

It’s rare to be captivated by a dish in this way and for so long, but then, simplicity and elegance are irresistible.

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Jeff’s talk at the September Women in Food Industry Management meeting caused a bit of a stir. A slide of his winter salad of root vegetables begged the question: where was the lettuce and tomato?. There wasn’t a speck of each “because they aren’t the best of what earth is producing for us in winter,”  he told the crowd.

WWe have to reconsider our notion of salad,” said the chef of The Ancaster Old Mill Restaurant. In fact, Jeff would also like us to reconsider our notion of food in general. As the person who brought Slow Food to Ontario, Jeff is an advocate and ambassador for the international movement, which is named for the antithesis of fast food.

“My idea of fast food,” says Jeff, “is prosciutto and the other charcuterie we make at the inn, which illustrates the Slow Food principle rather well. Charcuterie is traditionally made during the winter months, so that it can cure in a cold cellar and continue to develop in flavour until it’s ready to eat in the fall. It’s fast, because you simply slice and serve, ideally with good bread and some wine.

The Slow Food Movement was born in Italy in 1989. It calls itself ‘a non-profit, eco-gastronomic organization to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

Showing us the gorgeous slides that will illustrate his upcoming book, Jeff also took us on a tour of how he and his kitchen brigade forge relationships with local farms or compete for culinary recognition in Europe.

Watch for From Earth to Table, to be published by Random House March 2009

Drop by to see Jeff at The Ancaster Old Mill.
Check in with Toronto’s Slow Food Movement
Subscribe to Jeff’s gorgeous blog Earth to Table.