Category Archives: Slow Food SF Dinner Club

Why does Conviviality Matter? Connecting Over Food as a Tool for Self-Care & Community Care

By Alisha Eastep, Slow Food San Francisco Treasurer

In 2013, the Convivialist Manifesto was published.

The document arose out of the need for a new social, moral and political philosophy of living together, since many are convinced that democracy and ecological survival can no longer rely any on the idea of infinite economic growth and inexhaustible resources. The Manifesto defines conviviality as, “an art of living together (con-vivere) that would allow humans to take care of each other and of Nature,” and that in the search for conviviality there is a recognition of conflict “without denying the legitimacy of conflict, yet by using it as a dynamising and creativity-sparking force, a means to ward off violence and killing.”

There are four central questions that should be addressed in creating a convivial table–and world, besides of course, “What to cook?!” The first is a moral question – what can be hoped for and what should be forbidden? The second, a political question – what are legitimate political communities? The third question concerns ecological questions about what we can take and give from nature, while the fourth question is an economic question about how much wealth we can reasonably produce. It is only through a principled balancing of these four considerations does a new model for sustainable living arise. And much of that critical conversation is happening today all over the world across dinner tables.

A meal is a unifying force.

“Through the act of eating, the fellow conspirators were transformed into a “we”, a gathering which in Greek means ecclesia.”

A meal allows people to put aside conflict and connect over a universal need for nourishment, and to enjoy a moment together in a way that delights the senses, and stimulates the mind. If done right, that meal can be sustainable, too.

Toward the end of his long life, polymath and advocate of conviviality Ivan Illich (1926-2002) said, “I remain certain that the quest for truth cannot thrive outside the nourishment of mutual trust flowering into a commitment to friendship.” Forbes magazine wrote that conviviality allows us to be inwardly and outwardly playful. Playing together over the joy of a delicious meal brings us one evening of conviviality, and once step closer to a society that honors our connection to each other and our environment.

Join Slow Food San Francisco for a Convivial Potluck Thursday, August 15 at 7:00 p.m. for an evening of food and discussion to delight the senses.

Convivial Table at Pauline’s Wines

If you’ve ever grown your own tomatoes (or herbs or anything), you’re convinced that no others ever tasted this good. That was the sense we got at our last Convivial Table dinner at Pauline’s Wine bar (behind the famed pizza restaurant on Valencia). A San Francisco Staple for more than 20!) years, Sidney Weinstein and her winemaker husband Randy Nathan recently added this wine bar as a “laboratory” and place to highlight their very own wines. Gracious and enthusiastic hosts, they joined our group of 16 and told of the beginnings of Pauline’s, their gardens, farms and vineyard – and how a mediocre batch of Zinfandel was turned into a most delicious port. Passionate gardeners, they have added animals like goats and chickens over the years, and what started as some experimental winemaking at home has grown into a sophisticated selection of mostly Rhone-style reds that are used and sold in the restaurant and beyond.

Guests were welcomed with platters of oven-fresh pesto pizza, followed by a bounty of greens that included mache and watercress, alongside shredded celeriac and grapefruit pieces. Next up were roasted garden asparagus and boiled eggs from the Pauline chicken coop, served with aioli.

An important part of this evening was a tasting of three of Randy Nathan’s wines:  an ’09 “Cuvee” Rhone Blend, an ’08 Sangiovese and, coming directly from the barrel, his ’08 Mourvedre blend, to round out the dinner and contribute to the evening’s liveliness.

The complex and flavorful “Dirty Rice” dish featured ground lamb (and roasted peppers), again from their own production. To top it off, a Meyer lemon sorbet finished the meal with notes of lavender and those who stayed long enough were treated to a taste of his home-made port.

Their passion and dedication to quality palpable, Sidney and Randy have been true “Slow Fooders” for a long time, dividing their time between the gardens and restaurant. With the help of their phenomenal staff, they keep exploring and adding to an already well tested recipe: grow what you want to eat, serve what’s in season and enjoy what California has to offer. Pauline’s Pizza (and Wines) continues to impress and surprise and the convivial table we shared did no less.

The Convivial Table at Slow Club

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It’s difficult to even imagine topping the slow feast offered up at Slow Club on Thursday evening February 25th, but I honestly felt our hosts did just that with their genuine conviviality. Together, Owner Erin Rooney and Chef Matthew Paul provided Convivial Table with an experience that will be remembered and re-savored by all our diners for a long time to come. It was truly that special.

I won’t even attempt to describe the food beyond saying that it was abundant, inspired, varied, and delicious. There was soup, appetizers, antipasto platters, two separate salads preceding a choice of entrees and desserts. Without saying as much (he didn’t need to) the message emanating from Chef Matt was clear: “I love what I do, and I’m eager to share as much of it as I can with you.”

Before the meal even began, both Erin and Matt circled the table and personally introduced themselves to every guest. Each conveyed a commitment to making the evening special for us. As the different platters of food arrived, Matt was there to explain each element to our attentive group of diners. He discussed his sources, reasons for pairing specific ingredients, and complete explanations of individual preparations. “I roast the sunchokes in a hot oven for about fifteen minutes to bring out their natural sugars and begin caramelization,” he explained, to an appreciative guest, “and then switch them to a lower over for another fifteen to twenty five minutes. But less firm vegetables only get the high heat. They’re in and out quickly or they’ll turn mushy.”

These sort of exchanges went on throughout the evening. But it wasn’t just Matt’s depth of knowledge that was so impressive, it was his easy smile and willingness to share anything he could to accommodate. Before the night was through, he was promising “I’m here five nights a week, often six. Come back again. Say hello. Ask more questions. I’ll do my best.” That same sense of hospitality was echoed by Erin.

I read a poll recently that asked diners why they return to a particular restaurant. Cuisine, price, quality, ambiance, and location were all mentioned, but by far the number one answer was personal attention: “they make me feel welcome,” “they know me,” or “they treat me like family.”

I was acutely aware the following day that I’m already looking forward to a return visit to Slow Club. The food is delicious and reasonably priced. The room is stylish and inviting, plus, we really must appreciate any hip San Francisco restaurant where it’s easy to park nearby. I love that they are committed to fighting the good fight; sourcing locally and sustainably whenever possible. And I appreciate their continual support of Slow FOod San Francisco, so there are ample reasons to go back. But it occured to me that the number one reason I’m looking forward to returning is, guess what, they made me feel welcome. There is much to be said for superior customer service.

I heartily recommend a visit to Slow Club. You might even mention that Slow Food sent you. They’ll feed you well and treat you right. (But no, we’re not related.)

http://www.slowclub.com/ for more.

Dinner Club’s Night at Spork

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On Tuesday evening, January 12, the Slow Food SF Dinner Club was treated to a memorable evening at Spork Restaurant on Valencia.

Owner and chef Bruce Binn’s concept for this transformed former KFC space has been to maintain a “Classic American” menu – but at the other end of the spectrum from fast food. The cooking at Spork is slow, considered, time consuming, and utterly delicious.

Our meal was so inspired and so personal that it was easy to imagine that we were the only guests that mattered – until we looked around and noticed that, even on arainy Tuesday evening in mid-January, every table was filled with equally happy diners. Apparently they perform this magic on a regular basis.

On some level, this is the kind of food you may have grown up with – that is if your mom (or dad) just happened to be an extremely talented and passionate chef with access to only the best and freshest ingredients and a professional kitchen. Oh and plenty of time, and maybe an assistant or three.

Our little gathering of diners was fairly special too – and well represented. We included two members from Slow Food Berkeley, one from Slow Food Alameda, a professional sommelier, a Washington State resident in town on business, and a recently transplanted Southern California member now living in St. Helena. As an added treat, we were joined by our beloved Slow Food San Francisco founder and leader, Lorenzo Scarpone – who just so happened to have a couple bottles of fine Italian wine to share.

All in all, it’s difficult to imagine a nicer evening. Our sincere thanks to Bruce and his outstanding team (by the way – the service was equally exceptional) and to all our guests.

And in case anyone was wondering – forks and spoons throughout the meal, but dessert was served with a spork.