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by Libby Clow, Slow Food Portland and UNISG ‘08

Photos by Sam Park

Portland is not exactly lacking in opportunities to experience food. But what would happen if you could combine food, art, community and memory-making in a conscious way? Last fall, three graduates of the Masters in Food Culture Program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences put their heads together to get creative.

Over a few calls, we came up with the idea of a heritage recipe slam, based on popular live storytelling events that happen locally in Portland. In front of an audience, each recipe-teller would have five minutes to talk about a recipe with significance to their own heritage. We asked recipe-tellers to prepare the dish and share samples with the audience. It would be a food-centric show-and-tell of sorts. We decided not to give specific directions to the recipe-tellers because, well, we wanted to see what happened.

{{image(5398, {“class”: “fillround”, “width”: 616, “height”: 408}) }}But that’s not all.

We asked two chefs to come and prepare a dish in real time so that we could smell, hear, see and experience the energy of food being prepared. It was a way to engage the senses, in a way that only food can, while recipes were shared. The chefs had no directions other than to cook and to prepare enough for everyone to taste.

Then there is the final element.

We asked a local muralist to come with art supplies to paint a foodscape inspired by the recipe-telling, recipe-cooking and recipe-eating.

When the evening of the Heritage Recipe Slam came, we crossed our fingers that recipe-tellers and an audience would show up. We had firm faith in the ability of food to set the stage for good things, and we weren’t disappointed.

{{image(5399, {“class”: “fill round”, “width”: 650, “height”: 430.519481}) }}The evening was rich in connection, conversation, the sharing of new and nourishing food, and excitement. The stories were diverse, calling on Japanese, Italian, Nordic, Indian, Southern, Seafaring and Jewish traditions. One hour of 10 individual stories provided the foundation for endless conversations and a glimpse into our collective humanity. Food—in its production, its nostalgic associations, and its artistic expression—has the power to turn a room, full of strangers, into a space of intimacy and acceptance.

In a time when building bridges among and between people has never seemed more important, it was profound to remember that food nourishes, inspires and transforms. How can food transform your community?



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