SD. You have surely heard of slow food, a movement whose initial purpose was to protect regional culinary traditions.
Now this movement goes further and also focuses on defending biodiversity and ecosystems for the reconstruction of an ecological food culture. Its beginning took place in Italy in the 80s, when the first fast food chains began to arrive in that country, as a kind of antithesis.
Over time, this movement has found an echo in different parts of the world, a list that includes the Dominican Republic, where one of its greatest promoters is chef Carlos Estévez, who has dedicated himself to leading research and projects that add value to the Creole gastronomy, based on the philosophy of sustainable cuisine.
—In the DR the consumption of fast food is not as entrenched as in other countries. So why is it so necessary to promote slow food?
(Promote it) has been urgent for a long time. I realized that more than 10 years ago, because in universities, for example, they focus on teaching French, Italian, Spanish or oriental gastronomy, but not so much importance is given to the local one. It is already necessary that we understand that our gastronomy is just as good and rich as the others, and that it is not only to consume the Creole in our homes, but in restaurants.
—This movement is closely related to kilometer 0 or proximity products. What does the term refer to? Is it perfectly applicable in the country?
The term refers to products that do not travel thousands of kilometers from their collection to where they will be used, and yes, it is totally applicable in the Dominican Republic, because we have regional food with local products in all areas that must be exploited and given value. In fact, I am working on several projects in different areas of the country; one in Samaná, which includes the Sánchez, Las Terrenas and Las Galeras communities; another that began in Los Patos, Barahona, but also includes San José de Ocoa and Constanza, which are based on this concept.
—Why specifically choose the area of Los Patos (Barahona) for your pilot project?
I had already been working for years with the province of Barahona through its tourism cluster. This project was joined by other organizations such as the Dominican Institute for Integral Development, the Constanza ecotourism cluster and the San José de Ocoa ecotourism cluster. We have chosen it as a starting point given that this spa brings together more than a dozen food and beverage businesses with very similar characteristics that will allow us to align them under the Slow Food International philosophy until the destination is certified. What we are looking for is that this is the first tourist destination certified in the country by this international organization.
—In what phase is the ‘Agro-tourism Los Patos’ project?
In a first diagnosis we carry out the survey of the gastronomic offer of the businesses. In a second stage, we surveyed the suppliers: we approached all the suppliers in the area to see if what they are doing is sustainable or not and if the products they use support the Creole cuisine of Barahona. Now we move on to the third phase, which is the training phase. It will be done through the Infotep on issues such as hygiene and food handling, recycling and the protection and conservation of the environment.
—Based on your research, what weaknesses have you found in the area?
Food handling and hygiene was the one that we found weakest, because they are empirical cooks and have not had adequate training in this regard. We also note that they do not have the adequate facilities to cook correctly, in addition to the fact that many understand that to make a good Creole meal they need to use artificial seasonings.
—Many restaurants now grow their own ingredients. Do you consider it a fashion or an initiative that leads towards sustainable cooking?
It is definitely an essential part of slow food and sustainable cuisine. This is known as ‘farm to table’ and it is much more effective than 0 kilometer proximity products, because you have them in your own territory, next to your kitchen. I do not think it is a fashion, but a lifestyle that came to stay, like slow food.
—Can there be a change in the short, medium or long term with respect to orienting Creole cuisine to a more sustainable one?
In the short term, I really don’t think so, but since I see that a movement has started and projects oriented towards that end are being worked on, I would say that in the medium or long term, yes.
—What does it take for that change to take place?
The gastronomy professionals have decided to do the work ourselves, because if we wait for the mechanisms to be created, we may be late. Those of us who already understood and became aware of this issue have begun to spread ideas and generate changes for us to move forward. However, the work of the academies is super important, just like the Government. Laws must be created to make the path easier.
—If no action is taken, what is the outlook for the DR?
What awaits us is the same panorama that the whole world is facing; problems with climate change, due to the carbon footprint of transporting products from other countries, and more health problems, due to the use of so many artificial ingredients. The faster we react, the less consequences we will face in the future.
“We must demand that the local product be used more in the country’s food establishments”