The Art of Food

Some years back a freelance writer/art gallery owner and a freelance photographer dreamed up the concept of producing a book linking food to art. Through a series of interviews with Australian artists, what emerged was The Artists’ Lunch, a beautiful coffee-table tome providing insights into the private lives (and tastes) of some of the country’s more prominent artists. As writer Alice McCormick says in the preface, ‘the artists’ approaches to food and drink, work and pleasure, turned out to be as various as their art.’

And so there is the magnificent Margaret Olley reminiscing about her idyllic childhood growing up on the banks of the Tweed River and the Sunday picnics partaken with other families. There is Dorothy Napangardi who confides that, despite all the travelling her (successful) career affords her, she still loves ‘sharing a kangaroo tail cooked on the campfire followed by the sugar from the leaves of a eucalyptus tree.’ Anna Zahalka likes ‘the idea of an artist’s luncheon that might evolve into a drunken or disorderly affair, much like the tavern scenes of Dutch paintings’ – whereas Wendy Sharpe thinks that ‘if you did a survey of what artists really eat for lunch you’d often find it’s sliced tomato on toast.’ Nothing so simple for Luke Sciberras, who possesses a large plot of land in the old gold-mining town of Hill End with a lush vegetable garden out the front of two historic cottages. He believes that ‘cooking, gardening, and painting stimulate the same parts of the psyche’, and describes an incredibly complicated recipe using wild ducks he has harvested himself: stuffing them and roasting them then opening them up and filling them with ‘proper pancetta fat’, sealing them and then on a bed of white beans baking them for 20 hours in an Aga. He serves it with a sauce of fresh lavender flowers and concedes that it is all ’deliciously rich – too rich for Tim Storrier’. Jason Benjamin was a former chef and so it comes as little surprise that the recipes he contributes include Lasagne of Mud Crab, Avocado and Sauce Vierge and Roasted Truffled Spatchcock with Potato Gratin. He describes the relationship of food with art thus: ‘The difference is that cooking ends in enjoyment whereas painting ends in tears. Cooking is to please and enrich and nourish. With my painting, I want them to have their heart broken and sewn back together in the same day, in the same picture, in the same moment.’ Of course the photography throughout is beautiful, depicting the artists and examples of their work. You might not actually reproduce any of the recipes – not least Alan Mitelman’s tripe dish Flaki Wolowe which he recommends serving with ‘vodka stolen from a neighbour that has been secreted away for just such an occasion’ – but it is a fascinating book to dip in and out of, for anyone who loves both food and art.

Bread is what constitutes lunch for many people, artistic or otherwise, generally in the form of a sandwich or two – and bread is one of the subjects treated seriously in Bourke Street Bakery – The Ultimate Baking Companion. Written by the two chefs and co-owners of this popular Sydney inner-city bakery, it is a satisfyingly fat, lushly photographed guide to baking the sorts of glorious breads, pies, tarts and pastries which have sealed their reputations. I sought the bakery out one Sydney visit and forced myself to wait in the long line stretching out of the shop, just to see what the fuss was about. This book painstakingly takes you through the lengthy process involved in making your own breads – sourdough, yeasted, olive oil-based – as well as croissants and danishes; it instructs you on equipment, ingredients, the cooking environment in clear layman’s terms so that, without pretending it is simple, it ensures a perfect understanding of the art of baking. All the recipes are mouthwatering as is the photography – and even if you end up cheating and buying your own puff pastry, the pleasure in whipping up, say, Sweet Potato, Chicken and Lime Pickle Pie or a Mushroom and Herb Pissaladiere topped with buffalo mozzarella is indisputable. ‘All sorrows are less with bread’, said Cervantes in Don Quixote – and after reading this book you can only concur.

‘The Artists’ Lunch’ – Alice McCormick and Sarah Rhodes. Murdoch Books
‘Bourke Street Bakery’ – Paul Allam and David McGuiness. Murdoch Books

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