Heston’s Feasts: costly & pointless, Discuss.

A small exchange on Twitter with one of my favourite contemporary writers/thinkers has prompted me to write and think a little about Heston’s feasts.

I have been watching Heston’s Feasts with a mix of anticipation, intrepidation and curiosity. The episodes so far have gotten me thinking about food, imagination, ingredients, history, grand feasting traditions, the culture of Spectacle and also the strange media position that exists for someone like Heston Blumenthal. I find the choice of celebrity guests to enjoy his feasts somewhat nauseating (‘I’m not frightened of bollocks’ uttered in forthright fashion by Germaine Greer during the medieval feast was for me one of the lower points of the series thus far) but I understand why the programme has been set up in this way.

The formula for Heston’s Feasts seems to run along the lines of ‘we get Heston to make something insane and feed it to some celebrities. We film their responses; it is HUGE, I mean mega HUGE, and the public get really excited, and our ratings go up.’ That might be cynical of me, but it seems pretty transparent that this is how Heston’s Feasts works from an economic/entertainment perspective. Like the excess that is celebrated from start to finish during the programme, there is something just completely OTT about the whole thing. Of COURSE it has to be ‘celebrities’ and of COURSE it has to be ‘feasts,’ because what Heston does is just too lucrative in this kind of context for the moguls at Channel 4 not to notice it. If this mechanism is the means by which HB gains access to the materials and resources and cash that he needs for his experimentations and his imaginative, culinary dreaming then I don’t mind so much. On a basic costs/analysis basis where expense and culture are in the balance, I think that the cost of HB’s materials and expeditions are justifiable. Millions of pounds get spent in this country every year on the creation of television programmes and thousands of cultural projects get funding. I don’t see why in this confusing sea of distractions Heston Blumenthal especially ought to be singled out as a purveyor of evil excesses. In many ways I find the amoral honesty of Heston’s Feasts refreshing when compared to the insiduous ‘worthiness’ of something like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Run series. Heston isn’t telling anyone how they should shop or eat or buy or make or create or anything; he is doing something new with food and showing us the process. In my opinion this is a good thing, a thing that opens the doorway on what is possible, that gets us to dream and imagine and feel and consider and hear and taste and smell food in a different way. In the incredibly long line of chefs who have worked with prohibitively expensive materials for the titillation and enjoyment of the extreme elite, I find Heston’s work to be comparitively generous, socially. It means that he does have to enter the cringey circle of reality TV, but what he does in this arena is no worse than Gordon’s antics on Boiling Point or Nigella’s naughty, bulemic raids to the fridge in Nigella Express or even Jamie Oliver’s I <3 Sainsbury’s after they gave me millions of pounds TV life. And I love them all. I don’t care what deals they had to strike with what TV companies; I’m just happy that they are out there, talking about food, arguing about costs/ingredients/animal welfare and inhabiting people’s kitchen-chats as we argue about whether or not it’s OK to eat turtles and debate the pros/cons of keeping our own livestock.

To my mind Heston is one of the more interesting celebrity chefs because he is a genuine geek, perfectionist and inventor, and because he is brave, and I value all of these things. I am a geek when it comes to things like the provenance of my yarns. I will drive hundreds of miles to meet with a sheep-keeper who will talk to me about the history of a particular breed and I do not baulk at the comparitive expense of a skein of UK – bred, locally-spun Wensleydale or Bowmont Braf when I compare it to the cheap acrylic that my thrifty Grandmother prefers to knit with. I have invested enough time in reading about such things as sheep breeds and the history of the wooltrade in the UK, and have cut enough corners in other areas of my budgeting (food, ironically enough) to be able to make the odd purchase in this vein, and to then enthuse geekily about this to everyone I meet, in much the same way that HB goes in search of Bresse Chickens and particular kinds of animals in his creative endeavours. To my mind, this pattern of research and consumption is not so different from HB’s approach to his ingredients and recipes, but we are talking about a massive leap in scale, obviously. But the geekery resonates with me.

What IS interesting, is how emotive and divisive the issue of food seems to be. Eating turtles, killing frogs, making fruit from testicles etc. push buttons on issues of class, consumption, luxury, ethics, humanity, animal-welfare and sustainability in highly provocative ways. A towering absinthe jelly featuring dildoes is surely one of the most emblematic images of hedonism to have ever graced our television screens, but as such, it is brilliantly playful and bold. Dishes no less expensive to produce would avoid criticism simply by being less overstated about their influences and origins. As she states in her interview on the selection of dildoes utilised in the jelly, ‘Food and sex is a time-honoured meeting of two of the best kinds of sensuous pleasure.’ Hedonism and gluttony *do occur* in the world and are a part of our grubby, bloodied and complex culinary history. Does the difficult and unpalateable nature of these activities mean nobody should do them under the spotlight of a majorly popular TV series? I think not. I feel Blumenthal’s innovations and explorations of food do delve quite legitimately into the recipes of the past, the history of cooking and – most interestingly to me – into our imaginative relationship with food. I am really glad that amongst the scores of chefs who search to create delicious flavours and combinations, there is one person who is approaching cooking from such a genuinely imaginative perspective. Heston Blumenthal is not the only person to be sourcing recipe ideas from stories, (Alice in Wonderland) and the realms of art, but whilst not being nearly as accessible (you can do this at home!) as Brocket’s book, Heston’s Feasts does at least make a deeper forray into how we dream (and write) about food. And he isn’t afraid to be daring or to try out offensive ideas and I applaud that.

I think the ‘you shouldn’t try to do this at home’ aspect of Heston’s Feasts is an important thing to consider and I find it very interesting to experience this radical departure from the normal cookery-programme format when I watch his shows. There is no way you will find me making giant, inedible pastry pies or boiling up turtles but that’s OK, I don’t have to, because Heston will. So I can still learn about it, get excited about it and share in the creative process (albeit vicariously) and the things that I discover in so doing can only inspire my own experiments in the kitchen. This was a fact that struck me when I read his book, In Search of Perfection, and realised that – were I to follow a single recipe to the letter – I would be making very elaborate, carbon-footprint-heavy trips to France to buy Bresse chickens and suchlike. At that point in my perusing of Heston’s works, I realised that he is a man whose directions I can never afford to follow and I shifted gears in my mind so that reading his book was not so much about lifestyle envy or consumerist desire, as passion for food, and the vast opening out of what is possible. The sorts of cookbooks that I use (mostly Weight Watchers) are incredibly sensible and economic. Quantities for food are given in the measurements by which such things are sold (cheaply) in supermarkets (210g tinned tomatoes; 1stock cube etc.) and it is very possible to thrift brilliantly in both calories and finances while following them. But however sensible and serviceable the Weight Watchers approach is, I can’t imagine a duller world than one where thrift and sense are the only applaudable approaches to take to food!

There are so many ways to think and feel about food; it is something we are all incredibly emotional about in one way or another, and I find that in the confusing world of diets, fads, celebrity chefdom and contemporary food-related ethics, Heston’s message is refreshingly unmoralistic, highly creative and extremely diverting. Really recognising the massive cultural aspects of food beyond its necessary sustaining powers, he fetishises and transforms and ritualises eating in a truly fantastical way, and I think this is a good thing.

I may be biased in my sympathetic approach to Heston because of my great love of Bobby Baker and her incredible body of work that has been built up, historically, around the mythical and material aspects of food. In one of her shows she leaps into a bathtub filled with chocolate sauce and is consequently powdered with hundreds and thousands. In another show she covers a bedsheet in expressive daubs of all the food she craved during her pregnancy. In yet another performance, a dress made of ladles is continuously filled with different liquids, soups and tisanes, and the costume is danced in so that the floor beneath becomes besmirched and soiled by the inevitable spillages. In other works, meringue ladies are handed out to the audience, cakes are given away, packed-lunches are made up according to class (fish paste for the budget lunches, smoked salmon for the expensive lunches) and distributed amongst the visiting public, and wherever Bobby Baker goes and makes her work, people talk about food.

Now clearly there are some important distinctions to make between the works of Bobby Baker and Heston Blumenthal. Firstly, Bobby Baker’s work is very much about personal narrative, class issues surrounding food, issues surrounding the nourishing/sustaining role of The Mother in families, the importance of the everyday, and a plethora of other socially-engaged concerns, and the way that she presents herself within such work – in her white chef’s outfit – is very much in the role of the nervous, English, middle-class housewife. This self-presentation is key to Baker’s work and much of her commentary derives from the way she herself enacts housewifely tasks and brilliantly subverts them in the process. Heston Blumenthal’s work has not been designed to address such issues in an overt way or according to a feminist art agenda and in his work as a professional chef he presents himself very differently to Bobby Baker.

But I found myself unavoidably drawing the two of them together in my mind when I was watching Heston’s previous TV series, Big Chef takes on Little Chef. If we set aside for a moment some of the great differences that exist between Bobby Baker and Heston Blumenthal and just focus on the relationships between memory, imagination, food and childhood, it becomes obvious that these two practitioners share a certain sensitivity to how we feel about what we eat. Heston Blumenthal’s discussion on his childhood memories of Little Chef, his insistence on its quintessentially British nature and his considered rearrangement of the menu was very interesting to watch – especially since the CEO of Little Chef seemed hellbent on (like the moguls at Channel 4 who spotted a massive economic opportunity with Heston’s Feasts) ‘getting Heston to do something really mad’ to bring in the rubberneckers. I think that faced with Little Chef as a working context Bobby Baker would do something probably equally interesting, but in different ways; perhaps devising a performance involving an embarrassing waitress or bathing in chip-fat or sticking burgers to the walls… but either approach involves a certain amount of food wastage, a certain amount of excess and consumption and a specifically non-utilitarian approach to food. Those things, I think, are the price that is paid for more deeply considering our relationship to what we eat.

Bobby Baker won’t do performances that include food destruction in deprived areas or countries, because she thinks it would be disgraceful to do so. And Heston Blumenthal is very accountable in his own way about where ingredients are sourced from. So both big-food-dreamers and creatives have their own kind of logic or ethics, and clearly feel that something of what they are doing is of enough social benefit to justify the material excesses involved in the process. I totally agree with them. In a world where we throw away a third of our food in most households, where supermarkets throw away perfectly healthy food, where 30 – 40% of our food actually doesn’t get eaten at all and where the UK produces 4 million tonnes of food waste every year, the doings of Bobby Baker and Heston Blumenthal are the least of our worries.

In the case of Heston’s Feasts one could argue that his approach to food – to decadent feasts, opulent ingredients, and elaborate menus – is grossly emblematic of our complete out-of-control approach to consuming food in this country. Likewise, one could attend a Bobby Baker performance where 3 carrier bags full of food were thrown onto a sheet and then presumably landfilled later, and say ‘well that was a shocking waste of food.’ But I believe this reading of either Heston’s Feasts or Bobby Baker’s performances would miss the point.

Another reading of Heston’s Feasts finds him working imaginatively with strange ingredients, exploring new territories in terms of what is possible, and fostering an interest in food that could arguably inspire LESS wastage of ingredients. Celebrating the imaginativee potential of food, experimenting with different kinds of flavour combinations and developing innovative dishes on national television can surely only inspire us to think more about what we eat? Bobby Baker’s performances – likewise – are a fascinating and important reflection on the way that we consume food, our emotional/imaginative relationship to it, and the rituals in our lives that have built up around it.

I believe that the conscious exploration of food as an imaginative, creative and emotional resource is an important thing for people to be doing right now, because we ARE wasting too much food, as a nation and we DO consume too much food. Obesity IS on the rise and FOOD is a confusing issue for a lot of people. These are very confusing times in terms of the economic distribution of food in the world being totally skewed, in terms of half the world having too much food and the other half not enough, in terms of farming and environmental policies and the ever widening divisions between the haves, and the have-nots.

But in these confusing times there are plenty of people whose decadent doings far exceed those of Heston’s Feasts, and whose actions do not usefully contribute to our collective imaginings around food in the way that his programmes do. I am glad for anyone who can give us back a cultural reflection on how we got to be this excessive, this greedy and this craven. In summary I am glad for anyone who can open up the way that we think about food, offer a different perspective and draw attention to its many, confusing aspects. So I love Heston and I find his feasts very fascinating to learn about. They make me think more about ingredients and where they come from, they turn food into (potentially) a kind of historical/social narrative, they renew my respect for what I eat and where it comes from and they make me really inspired about what can be created from edible materials. Jelly will never look the same to me now. Likewise, Bobby Baker’s performances have transformed the way that I consider the meaning of sandwiches, the ritual of dinner-parties and the immensely emotional resonance of working with FOOD as a creative material

9 Responses to Heston’s Feasts: costly & pointless, Discuss.

  1. Sarah says:

    I enjoyed the Victorian one (the only one I’ve watched) for pretty much the reasons Charlie Brooker reviewed it so warmly in his screenwipe column (http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/feb/28/heston-blumenthal-feast-charlie-brooker). It’s preposterous. It’s excessive. Like you say, he’s obsessive food-geekery is kind of joyous. The celeb panel and mission format, which are rickety in their own right, seem utterly tinny next to the fine madness of the Heston feast. But even so, there’s not a lot on primetime TV that is genuinely unexpected, and this was.

    All TV cookery shows are fantasias mostly. Fanny Craddock’s everything-in-aspic was pretty unfriendly to the home cook; Hugh F-W’s earthy pleasures and Nigella’s lascivious greed are equally aspirational. Blumenthal’s just shrugged off the last ties to domestic kitchen. He’s making entertainment about food, not food programming. But I do find his fetishisation of flavour and dramatic exploitation of food exciting, and I do think that the show’s underlying theme of the way we experience food is a really interesting study in synaesthesia. Ultimately, I think the Fat Duck’s menu is a magnificent representation all the messed-upness in our relationship to food: the foodie-ness, the processing, the idea of eating as a mark of status not subsistence. And I’m not convinced that anyone is going to feel more enlightened about wastefulness for watching Feast.

  2. Kate says:

    I so enjoyed this. Thanks for writing it. I am not coming round to Heston, but I take your points about pleasure, aesthetics, materiality and drama. TV foodies are easy to take down, and you know how I like to do it, but with Heston it boils down to three things for me: 1) context. The cras sixth form channel 4 research (hey! you could get a plastic surgeon to suture some wings on the pig *and then we could go to a kebab shop*!!!). And then there are the ‘celebs.’ Do I want to hear trite remarks about Heston’s fabulous cuisine or tudor food history by the likes of Sophie Ellis Bextor or other farting skittles? No I do not. 2) class. You know I have a chip on me shoulder the size of Lancashire and for some reason Heston really gets to me. There were more difficult issues for me to deal with in his bigchef/littlechef attrocity (the treatment of that nice yorkshire woman, for example), but there’s just something about Heston’s championing of excess *and* fatuous privilege that I find very hard to take. I can forgive posh, worthy Hugh and hypocritical Jamie. There’s just something about Heston and his ipod accompanied dishes that brings out my inner northerner. 3) And this really is the most important issue. Critique. You know so much more about fantastic Bobby Baker than me, but surely the most singularly important thing about the use of food in her performances is that it prompts critical reflection. That is part of its purpose. There is self-awareness and care and (best of all) a particular kind of intellectual integrity about Bobby Baker. On this score, she and Heston are surely poles apart. And I’m not sure he really is a geek (in the pleasing way you suggest, anyway). His so-called science is the stuff of pseuds; his history is complete rubbish; and, in terms of the material aesthetics of the performance, I think I’d get more out of watching Tiswas. That said, I’ll probably bring out the inner northerner and enjoy shouting at the screen if its on again next week.

  3. Felix says:

    I agree very much that the celebrity panel and mission structures for ‘Heston’s Feasts’ are the weaker points of the show and with the idea that TV cooking is mostly – as you put it so well Sarah, – ‘Fantasia.’ I also think your point that nobody is going to become more ‘enlightened’ about food waste from watching Heston’s Feasts is a fair one.

    And Kate, your argument against ‘farting skittles’ making trite remarks on Heston’s cuisine or Tudor food history is utterly convincing. I didn’t get to see the whole Big Chef/Little Chef series and have clearly missed something! When I watched it, my main sense was that the guy who owns Little Chef just wanted Heston to come in and do something ‘Insane’ for the paparazzi, to raise the media profile of the restaurant and to create a big fuss/drama around the chain. He was clearly going for glitz, drama and notoriety, whereas Heston was – I think – trying to work sincerely with Little Chef as a UK institution. His menu suggestions underwhelmed the board of directors because it wasn’t ‘zany’ enough, and I think that unfortunately, Heston’s more sincere explorations of food and how we think about it will always lose out to the much more easily identifiable and entertainment-friendly WOW factor that he also possesses. Heston’s relationship to the media/entertainment industry is remeniscent to my mind of Bjork’s relationship to them. Bjork is a really exciting musician doing a lot of really innovative things. But she will always be typecast by journalists as a ‘kooky chick’ who is ‘soooo mad’ and beyond her dedicated fanbase, is seen generally as some kind of baffling, exotic oddity. Similarly, I think that Heston runs the risk of being the ‘weird’ chef, whose most notorious and shocking ideas – which are not necessarily his best ideas – become the things he is known for. If you ask anyone who isn’t a true Bjork fan about Bjork, they will probably point you in the direction of Dawn French’s brilliant ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ pisstake, or point you in the direction of her famous assault on a journalist. Meanwhile her incredible collaborations on Medulla, her thoughts on the human voice as a material for music-making etc. are far less commented on. I haven’t seen the unfortunate surtured pig that you mention, but I imagine that Heston will forever be remembered as the man who put wings on a pig than as Heston, the man who went to the potato factory to find out which variety held the greatest starch-matter in it. In our gossipy, celebrity-frenzied contemporary culture, the pig is just so much more exciting than the potato-investigations. So much more exciting, and so much more lucrative. So many stories, debates, editorials, interviews, etc.

    Re: Critique, you are absolutely right that Bobby Baker’s work is set up to prompt critical reflection. Her use of food in performances is intended to interrogate and explore the complex territory of food/emotion/feminism/identity/narrative etc. and I did wonder about the wisdom of bringing her work into any discussion of Heston as they are worlds apart – as you note – in terms of intellectual integrity. Baker uses food as a highly resonant everyday material, and explores its evocative properties in a much more careful and considered fashion than Heston’s approach takes. And her explorations of food and ritual are organised with much broader creative briefs than the brief that seems to drive ‘Heston’s Feasts.’

    So I do feel the links between their work are somewhat tenuous and am a bit circumspect about putting their work side by side in any essay, but there is a crossover somewhere in terms of the fantastical nature of food, and the creation of spectacles that are created around this.

    I stand by the idea that Heston really is a geek with a genuine commitment to exploring the provenance of ingredients and dishes, but I am also realising that his geekery is driven by a troubling sort of vanity that celebrates exclusivity and privelige and that his commitment to the exciting history and provenance of ingredients is dissappointingly clouded at times by showmanship. I would enjoy a series where we get to see what I believe to be Heston’s true commitment to, and sensitivity towards, the material/imaginative/sensory magic of food – the sort of concerns I read about in ‘In Search of Perfection’ – but I do not think that this is going to be as attractive to the entertainment industry as more programmes themed around ‘mad Heston and his insane ideas.’ I will continue to watch Heston’s Feasts with interest, but ultimately, it will be to Bobby Baker’s far more sincere, challenging and intellectually engaged performances that I return to for true inspiration around what we feel about what we eat.

    Thanks all.

  4. Abulafia says:

    Hrmm.

    Gotta disagree with the science aspect. For instance, the Ipod stuff is there for a specific and particular reason. One may not like it. One may find it offensively bourgoise, or offensive to common sense. So’s string theory. But it does work. God does not play dice with his souffles? He certainly doesn’t. His souffles too obey the physical rules of the universe.

    Pack someone up in a sealed box and not too many expectations, get them to taste oysters, and play sounds of the sea down their earholes, and you get a more succulent oyster. Unless you profoundly hate that sort of thing. In which case you don’t. Drink a Bellini in Piazza San Marco drenched in expectation, memory, atmosphere and expense, and it tastes better then one supped sweetly on the Longford bypass.

    Hence the stuff to do with memory, expectation, and confounding them. Even to the degree of being able to convince blind tasters that the same dish is, in fact, three separate dishes, with differentiating textures, and tastes.

    His understanding of the physics and chemistry of what is happening in the food he cooks is fantastic. Bridging tastes, protein strings, perfect 60 minute eggs, gels and emulsions, and the relatively complex physics of each – his description of making a particular type of pineapple and chilli gel…..fantastic, considering it had to do with neutralising the protein consuming enzyme in pineapples. Hence the chilli. Maillard reactions. What happens to meat at 100 degrees celsius, and what happens at 99. How salt and protein work. This is a man who knows his Herve This. And frankly, thats enough to dispell any particular concerns about his knowledge base. He knows his molecules as far as cooking them is concerned, and seems to make no further claims. Sounds like a geek to me.

    In re ones inner northerner, well, my inner docker can stretch himself to encounter the unexpected happily.

    Finally, eating at a restaurant is not, as standard, a platform for self reflection. It is, in general, not the intention. Food, as a cooking art, is, though subtle, limited. Think of it like this. Having an art exhibition in a bowling alley does not mean you have to be Vermeer to pick up a spare. Using an artists interface with foodstuffs to inform ones critique of a working chef is akin to criticising your partners shopping list on the grounds that it can’t hold a candle to Songs of Innocence and experience. They are such profoundly different things, and cooking is both a subtle, and, quite importantly, limited craft. The fact that it is not Art, with a capital A, is not a criticism. It is merely a description.

  5. Felix says:

    I sort of take your point about the shopping list vs. the Songs of Innocence and Experience, but I also disagree with your analysis that the world of the contemporary chef and the world of actual cooking are completely separate to, and divisible from, one another.

    The boundaries are far less well-defined than you suggest. For instance Bobby Baker’s work does not make sense in a world WITHOUT the familiar format of the cookery demonstration or the celebrity chef programme. The existence of celebrity chefs has provided something of a form that an artist like Baker can use – albeit subversively – to say something ABOUT that world of cooking, and Art is like this, rearranging elements of the real world.

    I agree that one cannot demand of cooking the same rigorous intellectual engagement with the territory of food and imagination that one may expect from an artist working in the same zone, but once one starts making tv programmes and becoming a celebrity figure, one’s doings inevitably become part of popular Culture and does therefore bear some responsibility for the creation of meaning AS WELL AS the creation of food. The extent to which celebrity chefs are responsible for spreading cultural ideas about food is debatable, and certainly not cirectly comparable to the responsibility for meaning-creation borne by artists with any sense of integrity.

    But to ignore popular culture and its relationship to Art when discussing Art is to miss the crucial way that experiences and images and ideas inform one another…

    I drew Bobby Baker and Heston Blumenthal into the same discussion because I find it very interesting that they play with food and explore its meaning and nuances in deeply creative – though extremely different – ways. And because I want to make a case for the importance of creativity and play, for exploration and imagination and for ways of thinking about food that extend beyond thrift, nourishment or prudence. I think my drawing together of these two practitioners is very problematic in many ways and you are right in saying that I couldn’t possibly expect a deep social commentary from HB on the class-politics, for instance, associated with fish paste sandwiches.

    Heston is, as you say, a chef, with specifically chef-like intentions. He wants to make amazing food. This is a far more limited brief than the one Bobby Baker adheres to as a working artist. But in terms of the imaginative, food-related cultural experiences that are currently available to the public, they are two figures whose approach to the material of food – even from their vastly different perspectives – is profoundly sensitive to memory and the senses.

  6. Felix says:

    PS Sorry I didn’t spell/grammar check that last response. I hope it still makes sense!

  7. Abulafia says:

    Actually,

    my point wasn’t that the world of the contemporary chef and the world of actual cooking are worlds apart. And I don’t think I said that…..or at least meant to. They’re not. Because a contemporary chef is still directly involved with actual cooking. This is quite an important point.

    What I meant what this. An artist using food as his or her medium, and a working chef using food as his or her medium are involved in different projects. They have different aims, and the food is a medium for a radically different message. If I am using food as a visual palette, and if I am using food as a gastronomic vehicle. Well, for one, food is paint, and the concern is not so much with food qua food, but with food as symbol. It is very important that the food be not just itself. HB’s projects are about food, and the experience of eating that food. It is about food on it’s own terms. There is nothing meta about it particularly. It’s of the gut. The abive the lizard brain is just a gut extension here.

    Bobby Bakers work may need the context of food demonstrations, and celebrity chefhood. This does not make it cooking, or gastronomy, or haute cuisine. It makes it art about the culture of food.

    A working chef does not make art about the culture of food. It’s epehemeral because it is concrete. And it is not about anything other than itself and the tasting of it. Art is not the thing itself. Food is. It this sense it represents in many ways an artisanal and not an aesthetic artefact, despite that apparent contradiciton.

    “This is not a flan” is Baker. “This is more thoroughly a flan than anything else which exists in the entire realm of flanhood” is Blumenthal. It is perfectly possivble for one to influence the other. And to inhabit part of one another. But they are, essentially, entirely different things.

    Or to run with Quine, HB is thoroughly back to the thing itself, Baker would use the thing itself as a jumping off point.

    I’m not sure, and this is a nub of my argument, that a chocolate fondant has that much meaning. I’m pretty sure that a dance performance does. A dance performance using a chocolate fondant is not a chocola5te fondant. It’s a dance performance. It’s concerns are not gooey. A chocolate fondants meaning is quite circumscribed (and it is primarily obsessed with gooeyness), performance art notoriously not so. We all create meaning. With everything we do in a certain sense. And we all, ala Foucault exist in a web of intertwines theatre and meaning. But the differences in order, intention, and degree, focus, execution and result are colossal. Not all meanings are equal. You can’t eat a still life.

    Arts concerns are the things we suspend ourselves in. Ideas. The creation of food is far too transitory and ephemeral a thing, so circumscribed by intent, and so direct in focus as to be incomporable.

    To step back to Foucault. The ship of fools. Was it’s apparent meaning clear to any of it’s inhabitants. Or was the discourse surrounding it, and it’s extension into societal senses of normality anything actually to do with it’s inhabitants?

    Of course food exists in a broader social, political, and cultural context. And, of course, we bring these things to tastings. Texture is a cultural thing, particular tastes, regional variations on dishes, certain perfect recipes are cultural notions. And celebrity chefs in part form part of that culture. This does not make them artists. No more than it makes madmen on Foucaults medieval ship political scientists.

  8. Felix says:

    I don’t believe I ever said that Heston Blumenthal is an artist or ought to be as accountable for what he is doing in terms of meaning creation as an artist. And I essentially agree with you on the point that artists and chefs are not doing the same thing! We are saying the same thing on that score:

    Me: Heston is, as you say, a chef, with specifically chef-like intentions. He wants to make amazing food. This is a far more limited brief than the one Bobby Baker adheres to as a working artist.

    You: An artist using food as his or her medium, and a working chef using food as his or her medium are involved in different projects. They have different aims, and the food is a medium for a radically different message.

    …We are agreed!

    And I made a stupid unconscious error in my response; the first sentence is supposed to read ‘I also disagree with your analysis that the world of contemporary art and the world of actual cooking are completely separate to, and divisible from, one another.’ I wrote the contemporary chef instead of contemporary art in one of my edits.

    I do not think that the tangible relationship between actual cooking and the world of the contemporary chef is that questionable.

    And I also think it’s important to point out that this was never supposed to be a post about how Heston is an Artist. I bought Bobby Baker into the discussion (who IS an artist, and I like your Flan illustration very much) because the key theme for my ideas is IMAGINATION, an element common both to HB and BB.

    So yeah, chefs aren’t artists but that doesn’t mean that how we dream and imagine and consider and remember food cannot be done with a consideration of both artists and chefs.

  9. abulafia says:

    I think, given the error you point out, my response is fair enough. It’s a small thing, and not really that important, in that we seem to agree. But the response makes sense in the context, I think. Possibly. Possibly not.

    I think we agree to a certain point. But we disagree about where those boundaries are, and how fluid they may or may not be, and, I think, as a result, disagree quite fundamentally about vertain other things. I am not only saying they are not the same things, I am saying that what they are is quite exclusively different. And I think I would compartmentalise their endeavours far more than you might.

    I don’t think HB explores the meaning of food particularly, for instance. I think Baker probably doeas. Baker produces cultural artefacts which partake of a sense of permanence. Hb does not. I’m not sure we do agree.

    I think of it like this, kinda, to quote Kurt Vonnegut. An artists job is to make simple things complex, and complex things simple. Is this why some furniture is art, and some furniture is not. It’s that alchemical transformation into the essence or idea of something else that characterises so much of art. Food is chemistry, not alchemy, and never really other than itself, with certain limited exceptions.

    I guess I’m informed by earlier courses on aesthetics, and the role and purpose of imagination in production of artefacts. Taking a tortoise shell and making it into a lyre, that greek myth of Hermes imagination, is a creative and artistic act. It’s purpose is itself, the transformation is the raison d’etre, and it is a metaphysical act in certain senses.

    It is not about itself.

    Artisanal artefacts are about themselves. And fod is a uniquely ephemeral one. It is both static, and temporary. It is fixed and lost in time, and in intent.

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