Grand Cayman’s Slow Food convivium – Slow Food South Sound – was established by Martin Richter in 1996.
The convivium got its name partially because Richter was the general manager of the Grand Old House.
Under Richter, Slow Food South Sound stayed fairly small, around 40 members, and there were usually three or four events a year, mostly at the Grand Old House.
In July 2008, after leading the convivium for 12 years, Richter asked Alan Markoff – who had become a member of the organisation earlier that year – if he would take over. He agreed, but admits he didn’t have a clear vision for the convivium at first.
“I tried for about a year to run Slow Food South Sound like it had been run for so many years under Martin,” he says. “He had access to people in the food and wine industry that I didn’t have at the time, so he helped me out a lot in the early days, arranging for guests like Roberto Felluga, wine maker of Marco Felluga winery in Italy to speak at a dinner that featured his wines. But after a year and a half of running the organisation, I wanted to put my own stamp on the convivium.”
Ultimately, it was a matter of philosophies, Markoff says.
“One of Slow Food International’s philosophies suggests that people should take pleasure in dining,” says Markoff. “I’m fine with that; people who know me know I love to eat and to dine with others. But there is a lot more behind the Slow Food Movement – philosophies like eating local ingredients whenever possible to support local farmers, to protect local cultural food traditions and to be kinder to the environment, plus of course the nutritional and taste benefits.”
Around that time, a couple of other things were happening on Grand Cayman, Markoff says.
“First, you had the Market at the Grounds starting to establish itself as a farmers’ market where people could get good quality fresh produce. Secondly, the Brasserie Restaurant had established its own chef’s garden and started hosting harvest dinners,” he says. “Those two factors gave me the courage to take Slow Food South Sound in a different direction.”
Markoff appeared as a guest speaker at Rotary Club of Grand Cayman in July 2010 and his membership jumped immediately. He started planning an assortment of events at different restaurants and venues, many of them with a focus on local ingredients. Over the past few years, events have been held at many of Cayman’s restaurants, at Bon Vivant and even at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
On 10 December 2010, Slow Food South Sound participated in its first Terra Madre Day celebration – Slow Food International’s global initiative that encourages its 100,000 members in its 1,300 convivia spread out in 150 countries around the world to join in an event that features local food.
“The Terra Madre Day Harvest Dinner at the Brasserie Restaurant has become a annual fixture on the Slow Food South Sound calendar,” says Markoff. “Another popular annual event is our dinner Joel Walton’s Plantation House in March.”
The establishment of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in July 2010 gave Slow Food South Sound another popular venue that embraced Slow Food philosophies.
“We’ve had a lot of events at Michael’s and we partner with the restaurant on its Farm-to-Table dinner series as well,” he says. “In late 2011, Chef/Owner Michael Schwartz approached me about partnering for an event that would become part of Culinary Month. Michael wanted to do a special farm-to-table dinner and I was all for that, but I wanted to make sure the local farmers and the other chefs who support Slow Food could participate as well. That’s when we came up with the idea of having a two-part event, with part of it at the Market at the Grounds in the morning involving a number of chefs and farmers and a farm-to-table dinner in the evening. Since the events would occur throughout the day, we had not problem calling it Slow Food Day.”
Slow Food South Sound has continued to grow under Markoff’s leadership and now has more than 125 members and the convivium holds between 10 and 12 events a year.
After Slow Food Day 2013 on 2 February, Markoff says he won’t get much of a break in his event planning.
“I like to have as many events outdoors as I can in the winter when it’s cool,” he said. “So on 12 February – the day before Ash Wednesday – the Grand Old House will host Slow Food Mardi Gras, something I’d like to see become an annual event as well.”