Pi­casso un­framed

Ju­dith Elen finds a splash of Spain at a Bris­bane tea ta­ble

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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?

Check­list

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.

Pic­ture: Pa­trick Hamil­ton

From pal­ette to palate: Pi­casso high tea served in the Foyer Bistro at Bris­bane’s GOMA

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