Cooking at a Snail's Pace

By Malu Lambert
Photography & Styling C&D Heierli

The golden arches make Carlo Petrini see red. The gaudy yellow isn’t the only problem, though. It is what they represent. It’s1986 and McDonald’s has come to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna.
Seeing the Spanish Steps in the shadow of the fast food giant, Carlo is outraged. Fearing for the eradication of culture and the dumbing-down of the global palate, he leads a protest that starts the Slow Food Movement in 1989. The protest results in the golden arches being removed, but McDonald’s is able to continue making burgers for the Romans.

Since then, the movement has spread worldwide, with 100 000 members in 132 countries. Here in South Africa, we have two chapters of the movement, Slow Food Cape Town and Slow Food Johannesburg.

What exactly does the term mean? It has nothing to do with escargots in a fancy restaurant, or even tortoise soup. I meet up with chef extraordinaire Pete Goffe-Wood to find the answers. 
“Well,” says Pete, “it quite literally means the opposite of fast food. As we become more westernised and our lives become full of convenience, we become disassociated from our culture and heritage. The slow food movement is an effort to get us back to our roots.” 

This is exactly what a lot of people seem to be doing; the market culture is a clear indicator of this. Across the country small producers are getting their hands dirty farming organic produce. And the market is growing. 

The Melville Market and the Jozi Market in Johannesburg, and the Neighbourgoods Market in Cape Town, are gradually expanding, along with consumer demand. Forgotten fruit and vegetable varieties are once again being farmed and sold. 
For instance, at the entrance of the Neighbourgoods Market, psychedelic vegetables are piled high. Many of the varieties are unrecognisable.

The person selling the organic produce there sells every kind of tomato, from plum, to cherry, to Rosa, and more. There are knobbly green beans, hairy potatoes (African potato), and even orange aubergines.
Organic farming ties in with the values of the slow food movement, which are ‘good food, clean food, and fair food’. 
“Good food is food that’s authentic, you know, like proper Chinese food. It’s serious artisan food that takes time,” says Pete. 
“As for clean food,” he says, “it’s about farming ethically with animals. We’re at the top of the food chain, but that doesn’t mean animals have to suffer.” 

According to Pete, fair food is produced by farmers who are free to choose how, when, where and what food they produce, and that the farmers are paid what they deserve.

Pete wants to stress, though, the difference between slow food and slow cooking. “You can spend an awful lot of time cooking a terribly unethical meal. Slow cooking is traditional cooking,” says Pete. “It’s time consuming. Potjie is a classic example. It’s a long, slow process. Winter lends itself to this kind of cooking.” In order to slow cook a meal properly, you need time to do two things. “First you need to take the time to shop properly. Getting the right ingredients from the right shops is about 50 per cent of the equation. People are in such a hurry these days, they go to one shop, hoping it will have everything they need. This rarely happens, so people end up substituting some ingredients for inferior versions.
“And then, of course,” he says, “you need to take the time to cook.”

In this age of convenience-everything, people seem to want to get food onto the table as quickly as possible, perhaps not realising the time spent cooking can be entertaining, as well as therapeutic, or as Pete puts it, “Food is not just fuel—it’s about sharing.”

So the idea behind slow food and slow cooking is about being conscious of what we are buying. As consumers we need to ask questions. It’s about having respect for our ingredients. Pete says novice cooks should read as many recipe books as possible and they shouldn’t worry about following the guidelines too much, and should experiment instead. That’s the best way to learn how to cook.
“The more recipe books you read,” he says, “the more you see the world as a bigger culinary picture.”
Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending the entire day in the kitchen. The population as a whole may have less time than ever, especially when it comes to cooking. However, with the right planning and careful shopping, winter roasts and nostalgic creamy soups can be ours.

It’s good to keep it simple, that’s the beauty of slow cooking. So while the cooking time may be long, the preparation needn’t be. Pop a roast in the oven or a stew in the slow cooker and get on with the other things that steal time.
But we must take the time, because as Pete says, “You can’t cook anything in under half an hour that will have any value to anyone.”

Try These Recipes

Roast Brisket
Sweet Potato and Butternut Soup with Thai Pesto
Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

For more information on SA’s Slow Food Movement visit or