Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vatel, A 2000 Film About Food and Integrity in 18th Century France

Starring French actor, Gérard Depardieu.

This film offers a glimpse of was or might have been the cuisine of the court of Louis IX. The meals were extravagent spectacles, even called "miracles" when assigned to the talents of Vatel ,the Steward, the maitre d'hotel.  More than superbly grilled meats or poached seafood, there were illusionary displays and fireworks, all created though Vatel's talent and imagination, and power.. When his coveted services (i.e.talents) his whole being, are  casually "lost" in a royals' card game, he chooses an honorable departure rather than compromise his honor, staff and his responsibilities.

     Francois Vatel was born in Paris. He is widely but incorrectly credited with creating crème Chantilly (Chantilly cream), a sweet, vanilla-flavoured whipped cream, but there is no contemporary documentation for this claim, and whipped, flavored cream was known at least a century earlier.

Jun 20, 2013 - Uploaded by Filmfood Janneke
Food in Film: Vatel 2000 Starring Gérard Depardieu as the great 17th-century French chef, Francois Vatel.

    François Vatel (French pronunciation: ​[fʁɑ̃swa vatɛl]) (1631 – April 24, 1671) was the majordomo (in French, maître d'hôtel) of Nicolas Fouquet and prince Louis II de Bourbon-Condé.

     MonsieurVatel served Louis XIV's superintendent Nicolas Fouquet in the splendid inauguration fête at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte that took place on 17 August 1661, the occasion of Fouquet's downfall.
     Vatel was responsible for an extravagant banquet for 2,000 people hosted in honour of Louis XIV by Louis, the great Condé in April 1671 at the Château de Chantilly, where he died. According to a letter by Madame de Sévigné, Vatel was so distraught about the lateness of the seafood delivery and about other mishaps that he committed suicide by running himself through with a sword, and his body was discovered when someone came to tell him of the arrival of the fish carts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cheeses: Read all About 'Em! It's Still Summer

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke and Cherries,1625

                  Food in the Arts.com

food art lit food art lit food art lit food art lit food art lit food art lit

   I have just fallen in love with three lovelies: Pinot Bianco, creamy blue cheese, and white peaches.  All of which bring me to some new cheese stories.

  Max Watman, The Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food (Norton, 2014)

Review by Daniel Boulud in New York Times Book Review (July 13, 2014):

“While I was growing up on our family farm near Lyon (France), I learned the importance of seasonal produce and fully utilized livestock at an early age. Max Watman’s witty and vivid accounts of producing farm-fresh products such as cheese and preserves in a modern world brings back fond memories and had me laughing throughout.”

Having spent part of my youth at my grandfather's farm in Dutchess County, New York, I share this enthusiasm for the sight, smell and taste of fresh, out-of-the ground or off-the-tree produce. No cheeses, alas, but green beans and heirloom tomatoes (uncooked, but we didn't know about basil and olive oil), small new potatoes, rubbed clean on my bib overalls and chomped, raspberries and "blackcaps" and currents plucked from a sunny vine, and peaches and plums so ripe that they were ready to drop from the leafy branches. Very, very few people today know that sublime experience. Maybe that's why we see only styrofoam fruit and apples so hard that they qualify as lethal weapons.

I fear that my generation may be the last to create our meals with 1940s sensibilities. 

And that is but one reason why your summer reading will be wonderful when paired with the more intense drama of traditional Castilian (Spanish) artisan cheese-making (sheeps' milk) in Michael Paterniti's The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese (Dial Press, 2013). There is much poetic language about the perfection of cheese, the fulfilling connection of man and his fields, and the wisdom and satisfaction of growing food in the old ways.

Still LIfe with Bread, Ham, Cheese (1772) 
Luis Egidio Melendez (Spanish, b.Naples 1716-1780)

Quote:  For Ambrosio, cheesemaking was both beautiful and primal: the milking and hauling, the pouring and harping, the careful progression of heating that depended on the right flame, all of it down to the work of one's calloused hands, leading after a number of months to some unknown destination, some new birth, some revelation rising out of the physical.  It was an act of faith, really (p. 60).

Sheep graze in Spain's Meseta region, a place of sever weather, summer or winter.

But we find here, too, a hefty slice of Spanish political history and small-village sociology, meticulously footnoted. It all fits together, as it should, to make a grand tale (See An American Man's Quest to Become an Old Castilian - www.nytimes.com/.../a-middle-aged-mans-quest-to-b).

Curiously, or perhaps not, all three tales present a hero/heroine of a small enterprise which is threatened with corporate sameness, defeat and disaster.

And to complete your summer reading scene, mix yourself a 'Bella Fresher (invented by my son-in-law and named after my granddaughter Anabelle Ash Miguelucci-Moore. How's that for personal disclosure? (2 oz vodka, muddle: sweet basil, several chunks of fresh white peaches, a dash of sugar/simple syrup, and top with a bit of ginger ale (preferably Blenheim's). One could add a leaf or two of lemon verbena, as well.

Okay, if you're not up to purchase new books, check the library for Sherri Holman's charming romance about a heroin's cheese (Jersey cows' milk) life in a small town, Three Chimneys, Virginia, The Mammoth Cheese (Grove Press, 2003). 

Margaret Pricket, a single mother and specialty cheese-maker, considers a plan for her business to survive. She takes the advice and help of a preacher (actually, several clergymen) to do a publicity stunt, to re-create the original Thomas Jefferson era 1,235 pound "Mammoth  Cheese" as a gift for the president.

And from the Danish community in Minneapolis, MN, I learned this: for a sensational cheeseburger, smear a goodly amount of blue cheese on the meat mid-way through the grilling [See The Minnesota Ethnic Food Book, 1986].

 Finally, to complete the picture, order a  cheese-friendly T-shirt from Murray's Cheese - www.murray'scheese.com

Friday, July 11, 2014

Artists' KItchens and Community Outreach

Another Charlotte non-profit is King's Kitchen in the classy Uptown neighborhood.
"Second Helping", located in the colorful Central Avenue-Plaza neighborhood specializes in taking in previously incarcerated women and guiding them into jobs in the hospitality field.
That's one supportive kind of outreach. Below are some famous experiments in community sharing that,at one time, catered to artists, gallery visitors, and students.

"Food" (a cooperative restaurant) as performance art opened by Gordon Matta-Clark in 1971.  His menu was simple and his customers, local artists and neighborhood folks, enjoyed it

"Food" a1972, 43 min, b&w, sound, 16 mm film on video

This film documents the legendary SoHo restaurant and artists' cooperative Food, which opened in 1971. Owned and operated by Caroline Goodden, Food was designed and built largely by Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978), who also organized art events and performances there. As a social space, meeting ground and ongoing art project for the emergent downtown artists' community, Food was a landmark that still resonates in the history and mythology of SoHo in the 1970s.

Camera and Sound: Robert Frank, Suzanne Harris, Gordon Matta-Clark, Danny Seymour. Editing: Roger Welch -- EAI

Gordon Matta-Clark (born Gordon Roberto Echaurren Matta; June 22, 1943- August 27, 1978) was an American artist best known for his site-specific artworks he made in the 1970s. He is famous for his "building cuts," a series of works in abandoned buildings in which he variously removed sections of floors, ceilings, and walls.

Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tobias Rehberger who designed the bookshop and cafe (below) respectively.According to art historian Rochelle Steiner, Tiravanija's work “is fundamentally about bringing people together.[8] The artist's installations of the early-1990s involved cooking meals for gallery-goers.[9] In one of his best-known series, begun with pad thai (1990) at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, he rejected traditional art objects altogether and instead cooked and served food for exhibition visitors. (see below)[


 He recreated the installation in 2007 at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea using the original elements and renaming the work untitled (Free/Still)


All of this is the work of the artist Susan Cianciolo, a fashion designer, illustrator and creator of the Run collection, which has been exhibited in smart galleries and sold at Barney's New York. Most of her shows, like this one, are multimedia affairs combining installation, performance and music. Run Restaurant is her most interactive project so far.

With the help of family, friends and assistants (the director of Alleged, Aaron Rose, is her husband) the artist built the installation, which includes dining nooks with Japanese-style tables, a tepee of sheets for the retreat and a kitchen. The gift shop stocks stitched and knitted items that more or less define the Run aesthetic: Raku teaware, scrupulously maladroit. The water garden is a little circle of rocks and plants on the floor, the modest idea of a grand thing rather than an actual grand thing.

Playing seriously with the idea of grandish things is what gives Ms. Cianciolo's work its mildly utopian lift. Run Restaurant has a faint air of a Krishna Consciousness love feast circa 1968. It recalls those edifying facilities proposed by the Russian Constructivist avant-garde where peasant workers could eat and read Marx at the same time. It also suggests an entrepreneurial update on the 1990's hospitality-art of Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Finally, while Ms. Cianciola's clothes may be priced beyond proletarian reach, Run Restaurant is a genuine bargain with a $10 fixed-price vegetarian meal, plus beverage of choice and dessert; occasionally there is evening entertainment. (HOLLAND COTTER, NY Times)

   The short-lived Restaurant de la Galerie J (1963) in Paris was his first such venture, employing art-world waiters such as critic Pierre Restany and poet/critic John Ashbery. His best-known establishment, the popular Restaurant Spoerri in Dusseldoff, opened in 1968 and featured guest chefs such as artists Joseph Beuys and Antoni Miralda.

     Two years later, he added an Eat Art Gallery on the floor above. In 1977, he, Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle, among others, set up a fetish museum and boutique in a Parisian kiosk where they displayed and sold items belonging to contemporary art personalities such as Christo, Cesar, Panamarenko and Meret Oppenheim. See Bechtler Museum, Charlotte, NC
     As a playfully entrepreneurial publisher, restaurateur and gallerist, Spoerri creatively exploited commercial transactions as a site for art.
Daniel Spoerri photographs food, especially messy tables and left-overs.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Food Books for Children's Bedtime: Read 'em or Tell'em

     Along with my favorite Old Black Witch (author Wende and illustrator Harry Devlin, first published in 1966 with superior pictures), I find these two books workable for kids. Based upon my own experiences, I still think that "told tales" (not read tales) are best and bring child and parent closer. A simple perusal of The Folktale Type Index will set you up with plots

Carol A. Losi, Amy Meissner, illustrator;
       Salt and Pepper at the Pike Street Market, West Winds Press, 2004
                                                                            Pike Street Market                                                                           

Adam Rex
      Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, Harcourt Inc, 2005

You might also be amused with The Charles Addam's Cookbook

Charles Addams' Half-Baked Cookbook: Culinary Cartoons for the Humorously Famished,Simon & Schuster, 2012 



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Women in the Kitchen", KItagawa Utamaro- Japanese wood block print, 1750 - 1806

Minatta Forna, The Hired Man (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013)

     The Hired Man is recent novel (2013) about an era of conflict addressed
to some extent in film (2001) but seldom in literature: the years of the Bosnian war (1992-1995) and the decades following. One notable exception to this paucity of writing is Steven Galloway's novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo ( Riverhead Trade, 2009)

In the country of Croatia and other Balkan enclaves, this ethnic and sectarian conflict has been a moving if successful subject for a variety of films. There national origins tell us show searing this experience has been for those engaged.  A brief list includes these films from many lands:

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (Serbian: Лепа села лепо горе (Lepa sela lepo gore), literally translated as "Beautiful villages burn beautifully") is a 1996 Yugoslavian film directed by Srđan Dragojević that gave uniquely bleak yet darkly humorous account of the Bosnian War. The times referred to as a war of aggression and sometimes a civil war.

As If I Am Not There is a 2010 Irish drama film directed by Juanita Wilson. The film is set in the Balkans and is shot in the Serbo-Croatian language.[1] The film was selected as the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards,[1][2][3] but it did not make the final shortlist.[4] The film is based on Slavenka Drakulić's 1999 novel of the same name that deals with war rape in Bosnia in the 1990s.[5]

  Grbavica is a 2006 film by Jasmila Žbanić  It won the Golden Bear at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival and it was Bosnia & Herzegovina's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 79th Academy Awards

In The Hired Man, there are subtle clues about the life of Duro, a very fit, skilled jack-of -all-trades and intelligent single man in mid-life (a teenager in the 1970s), with a good command of English. The more complex plot takes place under the surface story: Dudro is restoring an old house for its new owner, an English lady, who (significantly) has never lived in a house that had been finished, no longer under repair. He carries more than a few ghosts and lines of remorse.   Many memories and vast connections have been accrued from restless and peripatetic life in his village of Gost and elsewhere - military service, other countries and the Mediterranean sea coast, waiting jobs in restaurants, working on fishing boats and tourist liners. He is an avid reader.

One of Duro's skills is "reading" people, figuring out their motives and reactions.  Very defensive but mainly way to coming across as a very nice fellow.. Another is shooting. He is an excellent marksman, hunting wild game and, sadly, potting soldiers from the other side if the mountain.

     This is not a foodie novel. 

     We do not find regional recipes slathered on every other page. Food and drink are mentioned as multi-stranded threads in the story's fabric. There is, of course, the national beverage, rakija (aromatic plum brandy, for moments of affection or serious decisions)) as well as coffee, beer, "good red wine," and Johnny Walker whiskey and Stock 84 Brandy.

 Duro remarks at one point about a simple meal, "We ate pasta, tomatoes,local cured ham, good red wine in fine glasses."(p. 77).

     But it gets better: burek ( a meat pie wrapped in phyllo dough, known in its regional forms throughout the Balkans and Middle East), lasagna and pizza, meat paste sandwiches, fennel and rosemary, rujnika (pine forest mushrooms), venison, rabbits, quail and other game birds, and wild boar hunted by the villagers.  Sweet desserts like ice cream, cakes, a caramel pudding, pastries stuffed with fruit, cream and chocolate.

Croatian Dalmatian black risotto with octopus (Crni rizot)

But the best food passage in the novel concerns the local bread, as it should be in a country like Croatia, with its meadows that spread up to the hills, and then the ominously dark, forested areas and, beyond, mountains with dangerous ravines.
And bread takes on a certain metaphoric value.

Forna approaches it this way on page 225:

The family that owned the baker's shop sticks and are gone  The shop is closed. the hatch through which they used to sell devrek (bagels) and meat pies is sealed.
Yesterday's bread still sits on the shelves in the back.  Soon it is no longer yesterday's bread but three-day-old bread, last week's bread.  There is no explanation, no note on the door, just an old notice in faded  black felt tip stuck to the door which asks customers to make their orders for the next day by ten o'clock. Somebody crosses out the word hleb* and writes kruh.  Both of the words mean bread, but some people use one and some the other The ones who start leaving are the hlebs. So now there is only one baker shop in town This inconveniences everybody, and yet its also the way we want it (page 225).

Later, as people of the village are, one by one, rounded up and put into a gray van, Duro is stirred by the collapse and madness of a mail man who tried protecting lives by saving undelivered letters.  Duro remembers:

All the people to whom the names belong are people who worship at the Orthodox church; the priest's name is on one of the letters. People who use the word hleb for
bread. I bend down and pick up the letters. As many as I can. I force them into everyone of my pockets, and when they are full I gather an armful, run to the side of the bridge and throw them over the metal railing into the river. I have caught the man's madness and when I turn around I see him moving slowly away, with the air of a lost toddler (page 232). 

*hleb is the same as the Russian term for bread

A better and longer book review may be read at 

Andrew Blackman's 
 A lopuritan-magazine.com/the-love-of-memory-a-review-of-aminatta-fornas...nger 

Short films on Croatian culture may be found at 

Mushroom Power - Croatian - YouTube


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Participatory or Interactive Art (Again)

     We've been talking about participatory art and I am wondering where to draw the line.
      Do you remember those scenes from "Alien" (directed by Ridley Scott,1979), in which the victims are rolled up in a gauzy substance and "cocooned"?
Yucky and worse, scary. 

      Well, now the antropofagia art of Lygia Clark (b. 1920 - 1988) a participatory genre, is now an exhibit entitled,  "The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988" at MoMA, New York, May 2014 ( a covering article by Roberta Smith was published in the NY Times' Weekend Arts, May 16, 2014).

Below: thread-wrapped torso

Below: Deadly Cocoon from "Alien", 1979

       Clark co-founded the Neo-Concretist art movement. The Neo-Concretists believed that art ought to be subjective and organic.

       Throughout her career trajectory, Clark discovered ways for museum goers (who would later be referred to as "participants") to interact with her art works. She sought to redefine the relationship between art and society. Clark's works dealt with inner life and feelings.

Material Culture and the Methodology:
     I once was a curator on the staff of a prestigious outdoor history museum, what in Europe is called a folklife museum.  Its job is to document and record with care and in some fashion "present" and explain architectural forms (houses, sheds, barns), artifacts, and life skills and patterns of belief (parenting and politics, weaving and cooking, religion and the means of production). In short, the material culture of a time period, in a specific location.

     The better museums draw from all sources including archeology, ethnology,  folklore, art and,of course, history, both oral and recorded.

     The "interpretation" of scholarly research in this field, in the US or in any capitalist nation, is inevitably tugged by 2 opposite and often opposing ideals: education (clarifying and challenging ideals and misconceptions, or entertainment (profit, amusing the public with Disneylandish, expected stereotypes and only a thin layer of information.

    In the former case, we ask visitors to attempt to mimic the language of the costumed interpreters, to answer questions such as "When do young girls begin to work in a kitchen with grownups?  What in our own lives is this like?" Or, "How do we, today, accomplish this task (healing, education, facing death, social unity, cooking, mending a roof, traveling from X to Y, voting in a national election). What are your tolerances in this issue?

     This is what makes museum interpretation a metaphor. It is the equivalent of taking part intellectually or artistically. And the "interpretive staff," a well-trained and knowledgeable crew, draw them into the history museum's time-specific life.

    Elsewhere I  have written a longer, more concise commentary, in which one line stands out as both useful and memorable: "Interpretation is essentially a metaphoric activity.  Metaphor, in brief, implies a new evocation of meaning" (Folklife and Museums: Selected Readings, eds Hall and Seamann, AASLH, 1987).

    Under such interpretation quilting groups met, not to machine-sew store-bought, polyester materials but to make random, home-spun "wadding, piecing and hand-sewn cloth strips into warm winter bed covers. Moreover, there is another dimension to this activity - a performance of food preparation, as women usually brought to share their very best traditional covered dish lunch. The quilters' conversations around the quilting frame were more oral history of the community than gossip. Young boys, now grown men, can still recall listening while sitting under the  frame, and absorbing the names and places while munching on tidbits.  They tell us that such conversations were their first taste of local history.

     However, even the best museums sometimes cave-in for popular and profitable issues: for example, Christmas in real time Indiana, 1836, was a quiet,low-key day of religious reflection and hardly noted, but the public likes English festivities, a candle-lit, Dickinsonian feast with the later adopted German Tannenbaum. Admittedly, the Christmas tree was known in Vienna and by the royalty in Denmarkin 1840, and the tradition of bringing indoors a natural green goes back to pre-Christian people.  It appeared in Canada in 1871 and in Godey's Lady's Book by 1860.

Viggo Johansen (b. Copenhagen,1851-1935), Glade Jul (Christmas Party), 1891


      And although harvest festivals of thanksgiving have been ongoing here since the 17th century, the official Thanksgiving holiday was formally established only in 1864 by President Lincoln. But such wayward museum activities are often more than balanced by the public reading of the Declaration of Independence, as was the documented tradition in Indiana towns, circa 1836.  Patriotism was very public. Hurrah for Jackson and Van Buren!

    And so I read with great interest in the New York Times, on Saturday May 10, 2014, wherein Randy Kennedy wrote a piece about the opening of A Hotel with Spirit from 1971, that is an installation of yet another former "pseudo-hotel' ("Al's Grand Hotel", a public establishment established by ) on Freize on Randall's Island   Kennedy was invited to spend a night, to experience the artist's moment or hours, and see as much as he could take away with him.  It reminds me of Christopher's Reeves' character in the film, "Somewhere in Time" (1980) or Woody Alan's "Midnight in Paris" or, best of all, Jack Finney's novel,Time and Again (1970)

Time and Again.jpg

Let's read an excerpt of what the reporter said in his own words:

The Strangeness of After-Hours at the Frieze Art Fair

    In 1971, Allen Ruppersberg, who'd been running a café with friends, decided to trick out a house on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles as a gathering place for artists. That version of Al's Grand Hotel existed for six weeks, and — not unlike the restaurant Food, which existed around the same time in prelapsarian Soho, started by Gordon Matta-Clark and his pals, and was reproduced at Frieze last year — it took on a mythic afterlife, as time went on and the Los Angeles Conceptualists who gathered there (along with people like Dennis Hopper, who supported them) got written into art history. And so something that originally was a bit casual and happenstance became invested with mystery and significance and DIYism, qualities that Frieze, this lavishly produced pop-up, wouldn’t mind getting a hit of. (Back then, my room was $30 a night; today it was to be $350.)

Vulture-by carl swanson-May 12, 2014
Inside Al's Grand Hotel, at the Frieze Art Fair.