An event organized by the Italian Embassy in Riyadh in collaboration with the Royal Commission on AlUla and Slow Food as part of the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World was recently held at the Cultural Oasis of AlUla, a city and UNESCO World Heritage Site in northwest Saudi Arabia.
The two-day event, which ran on November 22 and 23, was dedicated to twinning the gastronomic heritages of Italy and Saudi Arabia and highlighted two of Slow Food’s international biodiversity-protection projects: the Ark of Taste and the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance.
The chefs who belong to the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance come from 28 different countries around the world. All have different backgrounds and cooking styles, but all share a commitment to the protection of agrifood biodiversity and the preservation of gastronomic knowledge and local cultures. They seek out quality ingredients (local, sustainable and seasonal), get to know the producers and share the stories of the products with diners. They work to reduce the environmental impact of their business and food waste. Many of the ingredients they use are linked to Slow Food projects such as the Presidia, Ark of Taste, food communities and Earth Markets and are produced in a good, clean and fair way, respectful of the environment and animal welfare.
Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance member Pino Maggiore, who has run the Cantina Siciliana restaurant in Trapani, Sicily, for 40 years, spoke to students at the International College for Tourism & Hospitality (ICTH) in AlUla, a training college for culinary arts, hotel management and tourism professions, a partner of the French School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Ferrandi Paris.
The students were reminded of the importance of local ingredients and food producers to the gastronomic culture of both Italy and Saudi Arabia, with a particular focus on the meaning of sustainability, seasonality, and tradition. Thanks to the testimony of Pino Maggiore, who highlighted the role of the Alliance’s cooks in building a relationship with producers, the students were able to understand the value of virtuous behavior based on sustainability, taking as an example the preparation of two great classics of Italian cuisine, caponata and Trapani-style couscous.
The essential role played by chefs in defending and adding value to agrifood biodiversity was explored by Carlotta Baitone and Alessandra Virno from Slow Food headquarters in Italy. They discussed the Ark of Taste project, an online catalog that now contains nearly 6,000 descriptions of products at risk of disappearing from 151 countries around the world. Slow Food wants to stimulate interest in promoting local cultures and gastronomic heritage, and is working to develop the mapping of Ark products in Saudi Arabia. So far 13 have already been catalogued in the country.
The training and the dinner that took place the following day, part of the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World, aimed to involve ICTH students, local chefs and other professionals along with local authorities in a reflection on the meaning of gastronomic heritage and the importance of making environmentally friendly choices in everyday life.
“Food Heroes” virtual exhibition
In parallel with the event, the Food Heroes exhibition created by Slow Food will be published on the social channels of the Italian Embassy in Riyadh. This multimedia exhibition aims to promote the Slow Food’s model of sustainable production and processing through some of Italy’s agrifood excellences, where the centrality of local areas and people is key.