Monday, 5 August 2013

Can't bat, can't bowl, can't bocce: Urbanlocavore "Meet the Makers" event.

I introduce myself to the old Italian man standing in front of me.
“Pleased to meet you,” I say, “What’s your name?”
“Tony,” he smiles.
Then I turn to his friend, another old Italian man.
“And you are?”
Bocce in the gutters and a little red boccino.
It’s my first time at the Italian Club in Fremantle and it's another world and another time. I’m here for the Urbanlocavore “Meet the Makers Bocce & Bolognaise” event and, frankly, have no idea what to expect other than to be fed at some stage. I’m useless at sport especially where hand-eye coordination is involved and so, even though there is a trophy up for grabs, I’m mostly planning  to sit and be the best spectator that I can be. Last night, the Australian cricket team was comprehensively thumped by the English one. A lot of the conversation I can hear  this morning is about the Ashes and I'm full of admiration for any Australian who is willing to put themselves in a situation which involves bowling accuracy so soon after such a shameful national defeat.

I didn’t know places like the Italian Club existed.  Roughly half the entire premises  (on prime real estate down at Fremantle’s fishing boat harbour) is given over to the bocce courts. It’s like a massive covered warehouse with four asphalt lanes. Signs and scoreboards in English and Italian, but mostly Italian, cover the walls. “Financial members only”, “Bocce Club members only”, “I Campi Sono Occupati Gara Privata”.
Listening to the rules.

My scheme to be a spectator is quickly overturned as we are organised into teams of three and then sent to a court to play against another team. Each court is allocated one nonno to teach, to supervise, to score, and to make rude jokes about zucchini.
The rules for bocce are on Wikipedia but what we were taught seems only very loosely based on the official information. Add to this the fact that each nonno seems to have his own version of the rules and you can imagine how confusing things become at times.
In a nutshell, it’s like regular lawn bowls – you have to get your bocce closest to the jack (or, in this case, the boccino). Actually getting to that stage takes some doing. There are various target areas into which the boccino must be thrown; if you miss twice, your opponent gets to place the boccino where they like; the person who places the boccino is the first to bowl etc.
And don’t even get me started on the scoring.

Looks like - world's worst clock. Is actually - bocce scoreboard.
A few attempts later and people start to relax and have fun. I discover that my underarm bowling action sends the bocce veering way to the right every time, but an overarm wrist flick seems to do the trick and I am more accurate. I score points, actual points! There is high-fiving within my team, even though we lose our first game.
Some of us got very excited about our achievements!
It’s not fun to the nonnos though. It’s deadly serious stuff. Tony Number 1 gets down on his knees to measure a result with his special bocce measuring stick. He calculates it. He calculates it again. We wait with baited breath on his pronouncement. Then Tony Number 2 steps in, shaking his head, “No, no, no, again.” They both measure. Tony Number 2 stands up and calls for Santo.
Don't mess with this guy.
Santo is in charge. He has the extra-special extendable measuring stick and an extra-large gold crucifix around his neck. He has the bocce rules in his head and heart, and God on his side. He is not a man to mess with. That, however, doesn’t stop two more nonnos leaning over the fence to add their 2 cents to the debate. Santo turns to us and makes his decision with an elegant sweep of his wrist. The point is ours and we have won this game. Loud cheers!
After all the mental stress of trying to make a bocce roll in the right direction, I head to the bar with a couple of friends. It’s like the 1970s set up residence inside and never left. The giant sign over the counter sports both an endorsement of Emu bitter and a map of Italy. There’s also sangiovese for $5 a glass which is also very reasonable and pretty good after a morning walking up and down the breezy courts.


Lunch, when it arrives, is very necessary. We are all worn out by the play and the strategising (such as it is) and ready for some food. As it is a “Meet the Makers” lunch, Jeff and Paul from Urbanlocavore, have organised for some of the people who supplied the produce for the July Urbanlocavore box to talk to us.  It’s a nice idea but difficult to hear above the noise of all the ladies in the kitchen. That’s right – while the nonnos have been on court, all the nonnas have been in the kitchen, indulging their need to feed and cooking up a storm of pasta. Their need to talk (loudly) is almost as great. We can hear them shushing each other to get absolute quiet and failing entirely.
Grazie mille, nonnas!
As we hear from the producers of Princi Smallgoods, ThirdPillar Olive Oil, Juniper Estate Wines and Azzura Gelati, the lunch is served.  The anti-pasto and the dessert are the best parts of the meal, as it is easy to make the direct connection between what the maker has been talking about and the food in front of you. There are trays of cured meats to begin, and tiny gelati (in strawberry, chocolate, pistachio and Cointreau) cones to finish.
Jeff gets the speeches started.
There are bowls of ciabbata bread there but no olive oil to dip the bread in! One of the guys on our table has a quick word and manages to secure a small bottle of the Third Pillar oil which we pass up and down the rows to share.

Similarly, there is no Juniper Estate wine (which is sitting in tempting bottles up the front of the room) instead we have carafes of Coolabah decanted straight out of the box. Now, I try, I really try, not to be a wine snob, but I have been having some lovely chats with the Juniper Crossing rep via Twitter and they are half the reason that I have come along – to meet this particular maker. My cask-wine days are long-gone (left behind when I finished university) and, talking to the foodie-minded people around me, we come to the agreement that we would have gladly paid an extra $10 - $15 dollars on our tickets to have good wine in front of us.

In between the prosciutto and gelati, there is a pasta dish and a main. The pasta is penne with sugo and, I think, shredded chicken, but it isn’t immediately obvious. Still, it is basic and tasty. I’m sitting next to my friend, Katy, who is vegetarian, and she lets me try her pasta, then tells me off for getting all food-blogger on her and describing it as ‘more dynamic’. Certainly, it is a more strongly flavoured, piquant sauce on the vege version and very nice too (thank you, nonnas!).
However, any advantage Katy may have gained on the pasta is lost when it comes to the mains. While the rest of us are tucking into roast pork, roast vegetables and salad, the vegetarians are tucking into roast vegetables and salad and… extra roast vegetables. It would have been nice to see something like a slice of vege lasagne or perhaps a stuffed field mushroom or similar in the place where the pork would have been.  There is more to vegetarianism that just taking the meat away. This may not have occurred to the nonnas (being of a different generation) but is possibly something that the organisers should take on board for next time.
For the meat-eaters among us, the roast pork is really tender and fragrant. I am not sure whether the pork butcher is one of the 'makers' here today or not - I haven't heard - but they are definitely to be commended on a decent cut of meat.
Lunch is filling, and when it is over, we are told it is time to get back on the courts for the semi-finals and finals. I check the time. It is getting on for 3pm. The event was meant to be finished at 2.30pm and I have places to be. I hate to pike out as I am meant to be playing with my team in one of the semis, but I am already running late so we concede. I later find out that my friend, @chky_cel , wins the final with her team, and gets to hold the trophy for a photo op as well as take a couple of bottles of Juniper Crossing wine home with her.
And she’s not the only one who had a lucky day. As we sat down to eat, we were told that there was a door prize – a complete set of WA’s (now, alas, defunct) Spice magazine, some Gabriel chocolate, some Kate Lane panforte, a bottle of Juniper Estate Tempranillo, 2 litres of Third Pillar Estate Olive Oil, and a jar of lamb marinade – for the person who found a chilli hidden under their side plate. I lifted my plate and there it was: a little red chilli. The goodies were mine to take home and I was very pleased and grateful to have them.

My kind of prize.
It’s been a fun and interesting day - good to meet some new people, get educated about some of the produce that I have eaten, and also to try a new sport. As a first time event, the Urbanlocavore team gave it a red hot go and, with just a little work on the organisation and menu (all credit to them, it is a difficult kind of event to pull together), I am sure that the next one will be even better and I am looking forward to it already.
As I leave the courts, the nonnos are just getting ready to supervise the last games of the day. Tony and Tony are brushing down the asphalt and Santo is looking on: his extendable stick at the ready and his crucifix flashing in the early afternoon sunshine. For them, the serious part is just beginning.

For me, however, the serious part involves drinking Tempranillo, eating chocolate and reading food magazines.


1 comment:

  1. All in all a enjoyable day out! Some elements could be made better but for a first time event it was good. Will have to bring my bottle of wine around to share so I can read your back catalog of Spice mag.