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Slowing Down for a Bite to Eat

French-American chef Michele Haines is on a tour of Russia spreading the good word about Slow Food.

Published: June 21, 2013 (Issue # 1764)



  • Storytelling is an integral part of dining with Chef Michele.
    Photo: Allison Geller / spt

  • Chef Haines believes in the merits of taking time to savor a meal.
    Photo: Allison Geller / spt

Hailing from Paris-via-Philadelphia, chef Michele Haines stopped by St. Petersburg to both teach and learn from the locals as part of a trip to promote the Slow Food movement in Russia.

Slow Food, a grassroots organization with members in 150 countries, has as its goal linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to community and the environment. More of a lifestyle than a campaign, the international movement encourages people to live and eat closer to the earth a matter of course for some, a revelation for others.

I became interested in Slow Food from their beginning in 1986, in Bra, Italy, Haines said. I believe in good health, in good, fresh, local produce, seasonal meals, organically cultivated if possible, no pesticide or chemicals.

I believe in food to be enjoyed in good company or family, taking your time.

The 71-year-old chef, who has visited as many countries, owns a French bistro, Spring Mill Cafe, outside of Philadelphia. Its a good thing she has her older son to run the restaurant when she is out of town, as Haines spends much of her time hopping around the globe, working as a personal chef, learning new cuisines and pursuing her Slow Food and charity projects.

Haines spent her days in St. Petersburg going to the market and picking out fresh produce and farmers products, eating at both new and well-established restaurants and meeting with Russias most precocious chefs and food personalities, such as food writer Maxim Syrnikov. After St. Petersburg, shell travel to Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow and Suzdal to lead workshops and demonstrations.

At a Slow Food gathering on Russia Day in the apartment of St. Petersburg Slow Food leader Svetlana Haliavina, friends and Slow Foodies gathered eagerly around the stove to watch Haines prepare an authentic Moroccan couscous and pate de foie gras. A neighbors fridge had already been borrowed to make room for the chocolate mousse that Haines had already prepared.

As people milled around, lending a hand to the cooking under the chefs watchful eye or chatting and drinking wine, a pot of the traditional Russian soup ukha simmered on a burner. Gathering around the stove and then the table, guests took part in the simple essence of Slow Food: Uniting people across cultures through the preparation and enjoyment of a meal.

Slow Food is organized into local chapters, or convivia, from the Latin word for a banquet or feast. There are now 14 convivia in Russia.

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