THE MAIN IN­GRE­DI­ENT

KELLI BRETT re­flects on a week­end of culi­nary alchemy, where tripe pop­corn met ant salt.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

Kelli Brett re­flects on the NZ Sym­po­sium of Gas­tron­omy

“A COL­LU­SION BE­TWEEN ARTIST, chef and the dis­sec­tion club.”

Cock­tail par­ties, open­ings, events, awards… I do get a few in­vi­ta­tions come my way in this role, and I’m al­ways grate­ful to be in­cluded, but this one was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. The artist was Niki Hill, the chef Jamie Robert John­ston of Judge Bao and the dis­sec­tion­ist was the woman be­hind it all, cook, culi­nary al­chemist, food writer and au­thor Jen­nifer Yee Collinson.

THE EVENT: The open­ing night of the New Zealand Sym­po­sium of Gas­tron­omy 2016. A pre­lude to a week­end filled with culi­nary mat­ters to touch, taste, mull over, de­bate and share.

THE IDEA: To in­ject some fun and in­trigue around the sym­po­sium theme “Aes­thet­ics” and to pro­duce an artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion with an emerg­ing chef tal­ent. Jen­nifer spent sev­eral months as fa­cil­i­ta­tor and chal­lenger be­tween artist and chef, en­cour­ag­ing them to push the bound­aries of their artistry.

THE RE­SULT: A col­lu­sion be­tween artist, chef and the dis­sec­tion club. The menu spoke to Niki Hill’s grip­ping and provoca­tive art­work and re­worked in­gre­di­ents such as of­fal, in­sects and weeds into a the­atri­cal food ex­pe­ri­ence. The evening kicked off with light, pil­lowy steamed black sesame and tra­di­tional bao served with lash­ings of dace whipped but­ter and radishes. The show­stop­ping cen­tre­piece cre­ated by Niki was a unique “fresh” in­stal­la­tion for the evening – a glass cloche-en­cased beef flesh hand­bag with hon­ey­comb tripe gus­set­ing, sit­ting on an ice pedestal. Judge Bao matched this with a beef tartare with fer­mented Chi­nese mus­tard greens, salted duck egg, for­aged weeds and flow­ers, and pink pep­per­corns. Hon­ey­comb tripe pop­corn with ant salt sea­son­ing and chilli may­on­naise was also in­vented for the night, along with grilled chicken hearts and jel­lied broth, roots and weeds served in lab petri dishes. Jamie cre­ated an ed­i­ble in­stal­la­tion us­ing a fallen log (cleaned of course), strewn with for­aged leaves, dark ca­cao soil, ed­i­ble fungi and deep­fried lo­custs.

I went into this event ex­pect­ing a bunch of schol­arly types to be hud­dled in groups, tweez­ers at the ready to stand in dig­ni­fied culi­nary judge­ment over the canapes, de­ter­mined to shower me with rules and in­struc­tions. Per­haps it was the words “sym­po­sium” and “gas­tron­omy” that made me feel a lit­tle in­tim­i­dated. I had no idea what to wear.

I needn’t have wor­ried. There were no tweez­ers (al­though I did find my­self us­ing chop­sticks to pick for­aged leaves and in­sects from a log) and the con­ver­sa­tion was that of any gath­er­ing of the food-ob­sessed – mainly about food. I’ve al­ways had a fas­ci­na­tion for foods that some would rather not eat. The menu was thought-pro­vok­ing and there re­ally is no other word for it – de­li­cious. I would like to have a food truck serv­ing that hon­ey­comb tripe pop­corn with ant salt sea­son­ing and chilli may­on­naise pull up out­side our of­fice ev­ery­day at around 3pm.

The week­end that fol­lowed was an ab­so­lute buf­fet heav­ing with ideas and thoughts across a broad spec­trum of food-re­lated top­ics. Tal­ented artists, hos­pi­tal­ity pro­fes­sion­als, ar­chi­tects, ce­ram­i­cists, food de­sign­ers, his­to­ri­ans, food writ­ers, chefs and pho­tog­ra­phers were all served up in a ca­sual and en­gag­ing at­mos­phere.

I asked Jen­nifer what she took away from the New Zealand Sym­po­sium of Gas­tron­omy 2016. Her an­swer – “That peo­ple who en­joy eat­ing food are also gen­er­ally open to the pos­si­bil­i­ties for con­nec­tion through art, cul­ture, sto­ries and cook­ing. We love the op­por­tu­nity for de­bate, and the con­vivi­al­ity which arises through un­der­stand­ing our own and im­mi­grant food his­to­ries. We like to be teased and chal­lenged and al­lowed to play ex­cit­edly around the no­tion of how un­fa­mil­iar foods and food arte­fact can play on our senses. We like to pon­der and talk of ethics and sen­si­bil­i­ties and to learn and to ques­tion. I learnt that the pos­si­bil­ity to ig­nite new think­ing on the aes­thet­ics of gas­tron­omy starts with hav­ing the courage to start a new con­ver­sa­tion with some­one you don’t know, who is out­side your usual sphere of knowl­edge, and that through com­mon ground, there are un­com­mon spa­ces.”

In the minds of ev­ery­one at­tend­ing, this event was a great suc­cess. And it was in­deed in­spir­ing across its many lay­ers and lev­els. How­ever, I couldn’t help think­ing about those who were miss­ing out. The in­tent of the sym­po­sium is to en­cour­age schol­ars, cooks, food writ­ers and arm­chair food­ies to talk about the his­tory, prac­tice, science and phi­los­o­phy of food and food­ways. The small group that gath­ered at the beau­ti­ful Pah Homestead for the open­ing event and then across the week­end at the AUT School of Hos­pi­tal­ity and Tourism in­cluded a few fa­mil­iar and lo­cal gas­tronomes. With New Zealand in the midst of so many pas­sion­ate con­ver­sa­tions about its evolv­ing food story, it’s dis­ap­point­ing to see this won­der­ful cu­ra­tion of cre­ative food peo­ple and ideas go un­no­ticed by those who might ben­e­fit from ex­plor­ing new ways to en­gage and in­ter­act with food. Don’t miss the next one… Find out more at aris­tol­o­gist.com

Artist Niki Hill's Beef Flesh with Tripe Hand­bag, the cen­tre­piece at the open­ing of the New Zealand Sym­po­sium of Gas­tron­omy 2016 (niki­hill.co.nz)

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