Judith Elen finds a splash of Spain at a Brisbane tea table
MORE high art than high tea, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane has begun offering its patrons stylish afternoon teas closer to the works on its walls than to the genteel triangles of thin bread and butter associated with the teas of tradition. The present exhibition at Brisbane’s sleek two-yearold GOMA is from Pablo Picasso’s private collection of other artists’ works and his own. An African mask, a Modigliani face, a Picasso profile: it’s an intriguing mix. And this is the nature of art, fuelled and sparked by the ideas and images that are in the air.
It’s also how caterer Tom Burke, of Brisbane’s Caxton Street Catering, got the idea for his series of high-art high teas at GOMA. Visiting London a couple of years ago he came across a themed tearoom, the Parlour, at Sketch in Conduit Street. Then there was Paris Fashion Week a few years ago, he says, with a Christian Lacroix-themed high tea: a colourful thought. Burke themes food for Cirque de Soleil’s VIP tent Tapis Rouge and has an Asian menu for the present tour.
Meanwhile, Picasso is alive and well in Brisbane. GOMA’s exhibition Picasso and His Collection has almost nothing to do with food. Early in the show, a larger than life, black-and-white photograph shows Picasso gazing at Maitre des Corteges’s 17th-century painting TheProcessionoftheFattedOx,orTheWine Festival . In the next room is the painting: a jolly group, wine glasses aloft, leads the plump beast to its fate. Close by is a raw-pink side of lamb, by Jean-BaptisteSimeon Chardin, with jug and mushrooms. Apart from these and a few ice-pale still-life apples and lemons, the exhibition is feast free.
Caterer Burke uses citrus and slivers of rustic meat (prosciutto and pancetta) in his tea menu, but his focus is on Picasso’s homes. The tea comes in two versions: Picasso (French) and Pablo (Spanish); the first white and feminine, Burke says; the second with robust colours and flavours. I’m here especially to try the tea, and since I have someone to help I order both. A pair of two-tiered, arched metal frames arrives, their smooth white plates reminiscent of a farm-style kitchen. On each lower tier, a narrow demi-tasse of soup is surrounded by savoury tastes, white china showing between like a modernist still life. Above are desserts, and over it all, a scattering of flower petals.
The Pablo soup is traditional French onion, warm and dense. Spaced around it are tiny tartlets of snow prawn (in champagne vinegar mayonnaise with lime), smoked salmon crisps (salmon gravlax with creme fraiche on tortilla bread crisps) and two chunky sandwich squares of creamy chicken and fennel. On the upper plate, two puffs of choux pastry are filled with a citrusy pastry cream; rich, delicious mouthfuls. Finally, there’s a slim shot glass of white chocolate mousse. White frosted pastry, white sandwich, white mousse are all strewn with the intensely red, cupped petals of a rose.
When I visit, and later pore over the catalogue, the two paintings that most seem to find their focus on the plates here are Jean Miro’s side-by-side portraits of a Spanish dancer and himself, both clothed in blood red.
The Spanish high tea, Picasso, is also scattered with petals, this time from an orange-red gerbera with streaks of yellow at the centre. Small, bright, chilli-hot pepperdews stuffed with creamy goat’s cheese splash the plate with red, as does a sundried tomato sliver on a green-pea puree tartlet. This has a twist of pancetta and comes in a sultry black pastry case (of squid ink).
The Picasso soup is warm pumpkin with a hint of lemongrass. A crackly slim toast crust is piled with prosciutto and a mound of orange and fennel salad, luscious oiled crumbs among its micro-herbs. Orange also zests the desserts: tiny, fondanty, saffron-coloured macaroons with the zing of citrus, and a chocolate jaffa mousse topped with textured citrus jelly.
The gallery’s Andy Warhol exhibition, which ended in April, gave Burke carte blanche to be dramatic, though there was nothing blanch about his teas. Putting himself in a New York movie frame of mind, colours and flavours erupted. Burke contacted the Warhol Foundation in Pittsburgh, bought the licence for the Jackie Onassis image, found a company — PCB Creation in Paris — making chocolate transfers and adorned his cupcakes with that famous face.
Themed food is just one ingredient in the stunning new gallery’s creative mix. While parents are indulging in high tea, children can create at Yo Picasso Kids (gallery 1.4).
High teas (with two versions) will be on the menu for future exhibitions. Burke is consulting with the gallery for the next, and though there’s been no announcement when I visit, he says it will be in November, with Australian artists. Billy tea and damper anyone?
Picasso and His Collection, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, until September 14. Picasso High Tea, Foyer Bistro, 10am, 12pm and 2pm, $35 includes tea plate, sparkling wine and coffee. Bookings advised. (07) 3840 9916; www.qag.qld.gov.au/picasso.
From palette to palate: Picasso high tea served in the Foyer Bistro at Brisbane’s GOMA