The juice and oil from the freshly cut lemon wedge ran across my palm- a culinary antiseptic. This ritualistic act cleansed our hands as well as our heads before we embarked on a journey through art using touch, taste, and smell. The sharp smell of lemon cut away any preconceived notions about food and its status as an elevated form of art, useful for more than its productive value as fuel for our bodies.
Our guide Charles Michel, my friend, and food philosopher stood next to a long slender table that contained bowls filled with bright colors that anyone could have mistaken as paint if they were not surrounded by zucchini flowers, heirloom tomatoes, and chilies. Each color came from pureeing a fruit or vegetable until all that remained was its essence. Charles Michel talked about how what we put into our mouths is the most direct way of interacting with our environment as he splashed and smeared the "paint" in a style reminiscent of Pollock.
He alternated the use of brushes and spoons to give texture to the painting. The color black which came from cooking down some mushrooms curved across the page with the stroke of Charles's brush, a glossy orange which came from a butternut squash was splattered onto the canvas with a spoon. Part performance art part culinary education we watched him make his way around the canvas giving no central orientation from which to view the piece. It was unclear whether he was creating this painting from instinct or if it was preplanned. However, none of that mattered as the thinly sliced tomatoes and zucchini flowers were placed on the canvas because the painting was finished.
Bread fresh out the oven was passed around the room and we all took pleasure as we swiped it across the canvas soaking up the vegetable puree. My first swipe had hints of spinach, avocado, and butternut squash. The deconstruction of the painting was almost as beautiful as its creation.
The second painting or "course" contained roasted mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, along with some cheese and prosciutto. We scooped up this work of art with more bread. My favorite flavor was the eggplant roasted with some soy sauce, it reminded me of my time in Japan, as well the saltiness of the prosciutto brought out the sweetness of the eggplant. Hands down this was the best meal I ate the entire time I was in London. I left the table much more knowledgeable about the way food interacts with us and how important it is to be more cognizant of the food we eat everyday. While I always knew that food was art I had never been able to eat the painting after it was finished.
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