Fergus Byrne Autumn 11 People & Food

In the hills above Borgo San Lorenzo, in the Mugello area of Tuscany, chef Carlo sharpens the biggest carving knife I have ever seen. He is about to serve the penultimate course of a delicious dinner in his restaurant which sits by a small man-made fishing lake surrounded by woodland. It looks idyllic, with families of ducks paddling through the reflected moonlight on a warm Italian summer’s night. Earlier, kitted out in a red and white Pirelli shirt with bright orange braces bearing the brand name Husquvarna, and with silver glasses perched on the end of his nose, Carlo looked the most unlikely chef one could imagine. He refused to disclose what was on the menu, laughing that he had to go and see what was in the fridge. And when asked what the secret ingredient was in his delicious potato, garlic and rosemary ravioli he laughed heartily again and with one hand on his chest he waved a finger in dramatic refusal. Here was a chef who had no interest in Michelin stars, rosettes or celebrity endorsements, but whose own wealth of character put him head and shoulders above many of those with such high aspirations. I found that same generosity of character in a recent visit to Spain where relatives of the friends who had kindly loaned us their house arrived with their best home-made Spanish tortillas and bottle of Cava to welcome us. And the same hospitality of spirit was in evidence on a visit to Ireland last month. But all three of these are countries that are currently suffering some of the worst economic turmoil in recent history. Yet the warmth and friendliness of the small producers, restaurant owners and many of those involved in the food industry belied the delicate balance they were treading to hold on to their livelihood, and indeed their industry. Many of them fear for their future as customers tighten their belts and in some cases venture away from quality local and organic foods because of the perceived extra expense. We are fortunate in this issue to be able to feature some of the people that have championed local producers and paved the way for more sustainable local communities. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Rose Prince and Rick Stein have been able to use their public profiles to promote small producers and in many cases give them the inspiration to persevere against a largely indifferent public. They and others like them should be applauded and encouraged to carry on using their craft and their positions to highlight the entrepreneurial diversity and the generosity of character that make local communities so vibrant.