The act of cooking, the application of heat, cutting and pealing, the notion of “curing”, of rendering food fit and healthy for consumption, are all by default manipulative.
To cook is to transform, but eventually also to frame or “freeze” with a clear purpose and to the exclusion of any undesired natural characteristic, life into product.
It feels fitting here to suggest that it is precisely the reification and manipulation of the natural world, repeated over time and across any group of people, what we today call human culture. Indeed the proposition first raised by Claude Levi Strauss in his seminal “Mythologiques : The Raw and the Cooked”, that the degree of departure, distance, from and intervention on the “natural” that determines the complexity of any cultural system. Civilised has come to mean, in many ways, what is mostly unnatural, the arrest of the natural.
One could argue that the degree of our separation, our distancing from what is, and its unintended consequence: the Anthropocene, human conquering over nature, that defines our life in this century; our life and all its problems.
The food products we consume, arrive captive in packets, trapped, portioned, segmented. We eat alone for sustenance, and less and less together for entertainment or joy. Indeed the natural, even when presented to us naked is subsumed by its symbolic avatar, by its function and by the status it conveys.
Armed with meaning as an ingredient, we explore during these dinners, the line connecting The Raw and the Cooked, or cured, and its allegorical reference to Strauss’ work. The dish also celebrates a certain universality in the way we construct our crudos, our ceviches, our kinilaws around the world. If food cultures are unique and the result of our framing and distancing from the Natural, as suggested by Strauss, could the similar ways in which we have come to cook food around the world, shatter that assumption? Could the similarities behind our food cultures shatter the veneer of separation and represent an unshakable and hardcoded relationship humans have with the Natural; the universal containing the particular?
In Fuqara (Arabic: فقارى, destitute, poor or needy), we present dumplings filled with Paklhali, a Georgian herb and spice mix, product of the ancient central asian movement of goods and people, alongside a co-created broth flavoured by all guests present. Fuqara, plural for Faqir, is the name given to bedouin shamans and sufi ascetics. People whose material sustenance is provided by the generosity of others as an act of faith, but who offer in return spiritual guidance and protection. Known for their connection to the natural and spiritual world, Fuqara, act as translators and communicators of greater truths and relationships that permeate human existence, supported by their intimate connection to all living forms.
Pintade explores the region we are in and its people, but also more specifically the grounds we presently sit in, making use of foraged Sesuvium, a coastal herb found in most parts of the globe and renowned for its savoury succulence, to approach the topic of human relationships. The dish is presented in a way that requires some problem solving and interaction from dinners to be enjoyed. Pintade fowl, also known as guinea fowl, is a gregarious bird, one that is known to be social, not only to birds of their own flock, but also stranger guinea fowls. A relevant metaphor for our innate, but potentially dormant ability to connect with humans of any of our many “clans”, and a relevant observation of the poignant and historical moment we find ourselves in; moments of conflict, of prejudice, moments of intolerance.
Our potential disconnection from each other, highlighted at Pintade, is explored now in terms of our separation from the nature we consume. Hayat, a tribute to the Arabic word for “life”, stands as a reminder of the life that sustains us. Meat, now commonplace at our tables, reified and given new and unnatural shapes, represented here by a pink piece of pristine Australian wagyu, is transformed for a brief moment into a depiction of its living form, a cow; once livestock, now living. Simply presented alongside a sauce made of its own pressed juices.
Frozen Forest, is a literal interpretation of the title of this exhibition. An icy and tart, green trou, a pause, a reset.
A Mount of Soil, a Pile of Dirt, a fitting last piece, invites guests to eat with their own hands a mount of dirt. Earth, the beginning and end of any of our human stories, is represented as a greater conversation about the interconnectedness of all things mediated by soil. Single origin cacao sorbet, itself a fruit riddled with symbols of life and of fertility, is covered in edible “soil” and presented simply on a plate with dried kiriboshi twigs and betel leaf marshmallow.
It is ironic to consider, at a moment where human existence is challenged by the impact of our relationships with each other and the greater world around us, that whatever is frozen eventually melts. Perhaps, the highest form of our interaction with the world and one another, is to be found in an enlightened return to this force, matured by these challenges, and illusions of separation, frostbitten, but alive.