Slow Down and Taste the Dinners at the Creque Dam Farm
By Carol M. Bareauther, RD
"Fast Food" feeds millions, but it is "Slow Food" that nourishes the body and soul. This nurturing earth-friendly cuisine, mixed with a heaping helping of eco-sustainability and cultural preservation, is what the Slow Down dinners at St. Croix's Creque Dam Farm are all about.
"The idea for our Creque Slow Down Dinner Experience, or CSDDE for short, was born out of the Slow Food philosophy," says Keith Weitzman, chef for the farm, which is also the headquarters for the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute (VISFI).
Carlo Petrini, an Italian visionary, founded the Slow Food Movement in 1986 as a resistance effort to combat fast food. The central theme of this now globally-recognized effort is to preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated food plants, domestic animals, and farming within an eco-region. This year, the Creque Dam Farm will represent the U.S. Virgin Islands as one of over 5,000 producers of good, clean, fair food at the Slow Food Movement's Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy.
"Our movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy - recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet," says Weitzman, a Chicago native who was introduced to a commercial kitchen at the age of 12.
In preparation for a dinner, Weitzman says, "I survey what we have to work with. That means looking at what we grow."
The VISFI is over one hundred acres of rolling green hills and valleys nestled in the highlands of the northwest corner of St. Croix. Work began in February 2003 on the orchards, gardens, and construction of the school infrastructure, and has slowly evolved into a budding permaculture development. The gardens are now lush with perennial greens and vegetables, the orchards filling in and beginning to fruit, and the tilapia in the pond overflowing.
Weitzman adds, "I also look at what the island has to offer, be it on the roadside, at the market, local butcher, or straight off the boats coming in from a morning's fishing trip."
The Garden of Eden makes for a fabulous five-course Garden of Good Eating. For example, for a CSDDE in late spring, Weitzman started with a first course of Baby Greens with Honey Mango Vinaigrette and Daikon Radish Slaw. The meal then progressed to Passionfruit Tuna Ceviche with Mustard Greens, followed by Cold Creamed Cucumber Soup with Habenero Dust. The main course featured a Spice Rubbed Seared Tuna resting on Curried Green Banana Pancakes with Mango Chutney and Fried Spring Onions. For dessert? Mamawana Bananas Foster with Vanilla Ice cream.
The VISFI farm exemplifies agritourism at its best.
"Agritourism is the act of visiting a place for the culture of food - its design, production, and the many shapes it might take after it leaves the field," says Olive. "In it lie pathways to learn about a place, its people, and one may relate to the earth on the most basic levels of living. It is also a vote for farmers who never stop working to put food on the shelves and on the table."
All photos by Nate Olive, courtesy of VISFI