Slow Food pupils bite back at burger invasion

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The Independent Online

Slow food has come of age. The movement that began when an Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini, saw McDonald's set up on Rome's Spanish Steps, and realised that nowhere was safe from the onslaught of the burger, today throws open the doors of its own university.

Mr Petrini's belief that real food and drink would have to be defended if they were to survive has spawned a movement with global offshoots, guidebooks, and festivals across Italy attended by tens of thousands.

Through Slow Food, the country with thousands of neighbourhood delicatessens and deep-rooted traditions of simple, wholesome food, has found a role in the world: a mission to help other countries identify and maintain their culinary gems.

But today, in the town of Pollenzo, south of Turin, the enterprise takes a massive step forward. In neoclassical buildings once owned by the royal house of Savoy, Slow Food inaugurates a complex of institutions, sinking its roots deep into the soil of Piedmont where it originated. The jewel in the crown is the University of Gastronomic Sciences, UNISG for short, the first academy in the world dedicated to subjects connected to good food.

Its first three-year course opens in October; already 480 students have enrolled, half of them Italian, the rest from 30 countries. Fees are €19,000 (£12,800) a year.

Also opening are Slow Food's first hotel, with 47 double rooms, in a restored 19th-century Pollenzo building; a restaurant born from the union of two distinguished regional restaurants; and an immense cellar, which housed the oenological treasures of the kings of Italy but which will become the Banca del Vino, a growing encyclopedia of Italian wine.

Vittorio Manganelli, director of studies at the school, says: "We don't train cooks but future gastronomic critics, teachers of subjects related to food and eating, journalists, multi-media editors and experts in high-quality production."