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