A good and various gastronomy offer has to be an imperative of any tourist destination. The Dubrovnik- Neretva county is very proud of its versatile culinary world which varies from region to region but also successfully combines recipes creating new and exciting dishes. The world develops very fast and in everyday life, time becomes the most important issue; the lack of it primarily. Lack of time has become very visible in the preparation of food also. Not only is it being prepared more quickly it is being grown that way also. In order to slow this process down and to educate about the importance of a healthy living and eating, the International Institute of Gastronomy, culture and Tourism (IGCAT) has introduced the European Region of Gastronomy Platform and eponymous Award.
As a part of the programme of Dubrovnik 2020 (Dubrovnik’s candidacy for the European Capital of Culture in 2020) Diane Dodd, the president of IGCAT, held a presentation and gave an interview on the important, but not enough stressed, issues regarding gastronomy in Europe, Dubrovnik and in general.
How would you describe the concept of “European gastro-region”?
Gastronomy is much more than good food. Of course, it is about ensuring the production and quality of local food but it is also about supporting cultural traditions and festivals, highlighting food heritage and habits, as well as encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation in the design of new products based on traditional recipes so as to ensure their sustainability. IGCAT introduced the European Region of Gastronomy Platform and Award to contribute not just to better food but to a better quality of life in European regions, by highlighting distinctive food cultures, educating for better health and sustainability, as well as stimulating gastronomic innovation.
Which would be the best example(s) of such functioning region(s), creating serious socio-cultural impacts – and incomes?
Catalonia, European Region of Gastronomy 2016 was recommended by an independent jury of international experts for two reasons. First, its importance on the world gastronomic stage but moreover, because there was a recognition that Barcelona has a distinct challenge (not unlike Dubrovnik) as it is suffocating under the weight of tourism. Both cities are victims in part of their success. For its part, Catalonia has risen to the challenge under the banner of Som Gastronomia, or “We are gastronomy”, declaring three-Michelin-star chef Carme Ruscalleda of Restaurant Sant Pau the region’s ambassador. Among its plans for the year, Catalonia European Region of Gastronomy 2016 intends to highlight local agricultural products as the cornerstone of its cuisine, as well as its wines, culture and significance as a food tourist destination. Its challenge as a region is to alleviate tourism in Barcelona and move tourist flows into more rural and struggling areas of the region. To establish Catalonia as a gastronomy region is the focus of this initiative which combines rural and sustainable tourism with smart event strategies.
Where do the culture and gastronomy interconnect most closely?
The capacity to design and produce innovative products or the ability to organise and stage effective food/gastronomy related events has everything to do with the interconnection between culture, arts and gastronomy. Food serves arts events and the arts serve food events… that is clear… In an increasingly competitive world, giving “added-value” becomes a must. It is the sensorial experience – the combination of taste, texture, visual stimulus, music… you know you’ve had a great experience when all your senses are satisfied. At a much more basic level, we crave human contact and independent travellers more so, that’s why AirBnb or Eat WithThe Locals websites are so popular. Food cultures generate much more than food, they also create unforgettable experiences of places and regions that stimulate people to visit them and to appreciate what local people have to offer.
On more personal level, what made you move into the directions of combining gastronomy, culture and economy?
I love good food! J Three reasons mainly 1. I suffered for many years from a food intolerance (soya flour) and through having to investigate this, I discovered that I didn’t know what I was eating. It is horrifying to see that people eat without ever questioning whether what they are putting into their bodies is harmful. 2. When I first moved to the area I live now, my small village had 12 farms, now there are 3 and they will also close soon as the heirs to these farms do not see a viable future in farming. Having investigated this I discovered that this is a common and alarming trend given that populations are growing at the same time as “natural producers” are diminishing. 3. I was, at that time, researching creative tourism and how creative tourism can support artists in earning a sustainable income while putting their talents to use. Transferring the idea of creative tourism to food tourism seemed like a win-win situation and thus, I started exploring the convergence of sectors. In addition to gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism we now also have strong partnerships with agriculture, health and education. On the downside, IGCAT will have to come up with an even longer acronym!
Does the education about healthy food also fit into your platform?
Absolutely! And, we would welcome a proposal from any region that would like to explore this further. For example, North Brabant is now working with large food industries and corporations based in their region. The aim of this is to provide information for the public and stimulate discussion on food security, and how to feed the planet in the future. These are not simple issues, public perception and the truth are often not in tandem and all we can do is advocate for more information and share knowledge – after that the public can make up their own mind.
Have some of the previous European Capitals of Culture you have been consulting succeeded in promoting food culture and local cuisine?
Two immediate examples come to mind: the first is Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017 that won the title on the theme of “Rethink.” They then went on to win the bid for European Region of Gastronomy in the same year and will use the latter title to reach out to the whole Central Denmark Region with a plan to “rethink” good food and their relationship with food industries. The second example is Galway, currently a candidate for both European Capital of Culture 2020 and European Region of Gastronomy 2018. In this case, Galway will use the European Region of Gastronomy title in 2018 to spearhead their bid for the European Capital of Culture 2020.
How much do you already know about Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik-Neretva county offer and potentials? I must confess that although I am familiar with Dubrovnik, and have visited three times, I had never heard the county’s name or visited other parts of the county. This suggests that like many regions, the county suffers from a lack of international and even local visibility. One of the aims of the European Region of Gastronomy Award and Platform is to give this visibility to the regions and address branding challenges.