Natalie Morris was a Slow Foodie by pure instinct.
During culinary school at the Art Institute, the budding chef hadn't heard about the global movement to eat seasonal, local food, but she immediately recognized a key issue:
"'Why do we have to keep ordering food from one big company? It's not even in season,'" she recalls.
Then, two years ago, she got a postion as a prep cook at Quiessence, where executive chef Greg LaPrad taught her about Slow Food. Morris went on to work for Arcadia Farms, Mosaic, and Edible Phoenix magazine. Nowadays, she works with Community Food Connections, the non-profit behind the Phoenix Public Market.
But soon, Morris will be heading to Italy to pursue a gourmet academic dream -- getting a master's degree in food culture and communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the city of Bra. She's one of only 50 candidates selected for the one-year program, which is affiliated with Slow Food International.
Morris says she'll be studying food anthropology, sensory analysis, photography, and writing. (Aren't you envious?) She's even started a blog to document her experiences. And although the program is conducted in English, she's sure she'll pick up some Italian language skills, too.
The end goal? Morris plans to return to the Valley and continue her advocacy work for Community Food Connections and small farms.
Local supporters of Slow Food are rallying around Morris to help her raise money to pay for the year abroad.
This Sunday, February 21, there will be a fundraising event at the Urban Grocery (5 to 8 p.m., $35 entrance fee) featuring food and beverages from Wade Moises (PastaBar), Dwayne Allen and Danielle Leoni (The Breadfruit), Elizabeth Milburt (Urban Grocery), Lara Hardwick (Petit Fromage), Royal at the Market, Patty Coughlin (Dos Cabezas), Sam Pillsbury (Pillsbury Wines), and Tony Piccini (Pitcher of Nectar).
And at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 23, FnB restaurant in Scottsdale will host a special multi-course tasting dinner to help Morris's cause. At $75 per person, the meal will showcase produce from Sean McClendon and wines from Sam Pillsbury -- both of them will also be in attendance. Read on for the full menu:
ricotta & pistachio crostini with radishes
NV Mionetto Prosecco- an Italian toast to Natalie
grilled local asparagus, cauliflower puree & crispy beets
08 Pillsbury Casa Blanca Pinot Gris
quail, escarole & lentil vinaigrette
06 Pillsbury Roan Red
slow-cooked shortribs, spigarello,
fingerling potatoes & mustard crumbs
07 Pillsbury Diva
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cocoa date cake, chocolate sauce & candied pomegranates
07 Pillsbury Petit Syrah