Leah Caplan & Tami Lax

In 1999, two young, talented, and ambitious local chefs set out to make a difference in our local food shed. Tami Lax, current owner of Harvest Restaurant and co-owner of The Old Fashioned, and Leah Caplan, Chief Food Officer for Metcalfe’s Market, were friends and culinary peers living and working within the “Slow Food” framework. Leah had already helped to start and grow other sustainability organizations such as Homegrown Wisconsin and Chefs Collaborative in an effort to help connect local chefs with local producers. Tami had recently left her position at L’Etoile, under the tutelage of Odessa Piper, to open Harvest Restaurant.

News of Slow Food had made its way across the Atlantic, and while Tami had some “down time” between jobs she contacted Slow Food about starting a chapter in Madison. After recruiting a minimum of 20 dues-paying friends and peers, she and Leah inaugurated the first convivium in Wisconsin and one of the first three in the U.S. At this time Slow Food “convivia” (chapters) were small and very informal. Patrick Martins, former executive director of Slow Food USA, had not yet established the national office, now in New York City. Slow Food Madison gained a rapid following and at one time was the largest chapter in the U.S.

The primary objective of Slow Food Madison was taste education and preserving the culinary heritage and identity of Wisconsin through food. Our first events included an apple tour and tasting at Weston’s Antique Apple Orchard in New Berlin, an outing to Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra, Future Fruit Spring Festival in Ridgeway, and a tour of Crawford Farm in New Glarus.

The Ark of Taste

Tami Lax and Leah Caplan have both been involved in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, with Tami being instrumental in its inception and leadership. The Ark of Taste is an international catalog of endangered food whose existence is threatened by industrial standardization and environmental damage. Since 1996 more than 800 products from over 50 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste. The U.S. Ark of Taste includes over 200 rare regional foods and serves as a guide to farmers, producers, and consumers for celebrating and supporting the biodiversity of our country and cultural heritage.

True to their ambitious and visionary nature, Tami and Leah began focusing their attention on other projects and gradually turned the leadership of Slow Food Madison over to Susan Boldt, who since its inception had been a very active member. Susan rallied a small team of equally ambitious folks to create a larger rolling leadership team for Slow Food Madison which has carried it forward to today. We are grateful to Tami, Leah, and subsequent leaders and active members for their hard work and dedication in not only initiating but maintaining the chapter four our community.

Slow Food UW

The University of Wisconsin chapter of Slow Food was the first campus chapter, started in 2007 by Genya Erling, Tony Sturm and other UW students with faculty adviser Lydia Zepeda. In many ways, SFUW remains the model campus chapter, and their ambitious projects inspire chapters internationally.

Slow Food UW is independently organized by the students of UW, but is a close ally that works often with Slow Food Madison.