The Slow Revolutionary

Carlo Petrini
Italy

Originally a protest, his Slow Food movement has transformed the way we think about cuisine

Who can resist the laid-back elegance of Carlo Petrini? The huge smile, the twinkling eye, the enthusiastic gestures as he talks — he’s a seducer, the Don Juan of the food world. He has changed the way we think about eating.

In 1986, Petrini founded an association called Slow Food in Barolo, a town in the wine country of the Piedmont region. The organization grew out of a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, and dedicated itself to the protection of traditional foods and agricultural biodiversity. “The movement was almost like a game at first; we didn’t know it would explode like it did,” he recalls. In 1989, in Paris, Slow Food became international. Affiliates continue to spring up, and today Slow Food has 80,000 members in 100 countries.

Petrini, 55, has a sense of true modernity. In his concept, pleasure is the primary ingredient. When he declares that we should all “surely, slowly, fully and without excess enjoy the pleasures of the senses,” he is heir to the hedonist philosophers of ancient Greece.

He is also modern in his vision of contemporary realities. Globalization? Of course! It’s affecting all inhabitants of the planet. But, at the same time, the local roots of men and women have never been so important. Business? No problem! Petrini knows how to be critical of big agro-alimentary enterprises — and how to welcome them as sponsors. Independence doesn’t exclude cooperation.

Petrini understands that modernity is worth nothing if its price is forgetting the past. Modern technology allows me to assure the best working conditions for the personnel in my kitchens. It allows me to guarantee the exact time and temperature for cooking the dishes. That’s progress. But when it means banalizing the taste of products, that’s a step back, and, cook that I am, I rebel.

That’s where the ideals of Slow Food are the most important: the defense of products. Petrini emphasizes that there are no good products without good producers. His willingness to consider all the parameters — agricultural, industrial, commercial, ecological — constitutes the real strength of Slow Food. Petrini, finally, is modern because he concretely realizes his ideas. Slow Food today has a publishing house, sponsors an annual Taste Fair in Turin (Oct. 21-25), and presents critical reflections and essays (Petrini’s Manifesto on the Future of Food is a must-read). On Oct. 4, Slow Food will open a University of the Science of Gastronomy in Pollenzo, Italy — resolutely international, multidisciplinary and open to the corporate world: a model of its kind.

— By Alain Ducasse, France’s internationally acclaimed chef, whose restaurants have nine Michelin stars
From the Oct. 11, 2004 issue of TIME Europe magazin