Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feasting On Art

I recently discovered this incredible blog, Feasting on Art. Its proprietress, Megan Fizell, has combined her passion for food, art and photography and created a unique genre all her own: She creates culinary masterpieces inspired by classic and contemporary works of art, many of them still lifes.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 8, 1939-42
Oil on canvas, 74 x 68 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Mondrian's Pound Cake (click for recipe)

Megan is educated as an art historian and currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia. I love the way she describes the original works - for me, it's like getting a double major in art history and culinary education at the same time. Moreover, her site is so visually and sensually exciting - a very inspired place to visit so I hope you will check it out. Below, is my interview with Megan. She also shares her culinary experiences in Sydney, a place I dream about living someday...

How do you describe Feasting on Art?

Feasting on Art is an innovative translation from painting to plate. Taking cues from the ingredients depicted in each work, recipes are composed to reflect the artist's creativity. As a broad survey of both the role of food in the history of art and the gastronomic traditions of the culinary arts, the blog acts as a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

Can you describe your day job and how Feasting on Art intersects with that? How do the two inform one another?

By working at an art gallery I am exposed to new and exciting art on a daily basis in the gallery collection and by the Sydney scene in general. I used one painting on the blog that was sold at the gallery many years ago by Weaver Hawkins.

Your recipes and images aren't literal, but inspired by the original work. Can you describe your process?

The process varies depending on the painting but generally I start with an artwork I find interesting and want to learn more about. I have a large archive of paintings I hope to study and find myself picking art based on the season. I am currently in the middle of a series about Frida Kahlo who created bright and vibrant paintings - perfect for our hot Sydney summer. Sometimes I find beautiful produce at the market and then search for a matching painting to research. Those posts are much harder for obvious reasons.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life, 1942
oil on copper, 64.5 cm diameter, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City

Are these your proprietary recipes?

It depends on the specific recipe - I alternate between adapting recipes by other authors and creating my own. I cite the recipe's original source if adapting so unless otherwise noted the work is my own.

What is your cooking background? How often do you cook for yourself and others?

Up until my move to London my kitchen skills were very limited. I had a very inspiring roommate who introduced me to cooking as a creative outlet. I am self-taught and spend each Sunday testing new recipes. I cook for the blog on Mondays so that I can photograph the food in the fantastic natural light in my flat. When entertaining friends for dinner I often make chipotle chicken enchiladas and a berry lemon cream cheese pie for dessert.

Edouard Manet, The Ham, 1875
oil on canvas, 13 x 16 cm, The Glasgow Museum

I love how much I learn about art and artists on your site. Tell me more about your fascination with still lifes.

Still life paintings are the meeting place of my two passions, food and art. The paintings are so much more than a depiction of a pile of foodstuffs, often the works are saturated with iconography. Food is central to culture - illustrated by it's continual presence in the visual arts.

Can you describe what it's like to be food-obsessed in Sydney, Australia? What are your favorite places to eat?

For me Australia is a small slice of heaven. I can get my greedy little hands on beautiful tropical fruits including my favorite, lady finger bananas, as well as incredibly fresh seafood. I have been in Sydney for less than a year so I am still in the exploration stage of the food scene here. There are so many restaurants on my list to try that I haven't had the chance to go back to the few places where I've had really memorable meals. One of them was at Buon Ricordo in Paddington. While photographing a friend's wedding reception I sampled one of the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth cuts of beef that I ever had. This was proceeded by the restaurant's famous dish,
Fettuccine al Tartufovo described as a fettuccine with cream and Parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg that is brought to the table and mixed in front of you in all of it's velvety rich glory. I have Buon Ricardo to thank for my current arancini infatuation. Before that fateful meal I had never even heard of the dish and now it seems, wherever I dine, the deep fried risotto balls are popping up on every menu. Last week I had a variety with spinach and parmesan at the North Bondi Italian restaurant below the RSL. Perfect with a squeeze of lemon.

The only restaurant I'm a regular at is a little place in Chinatown on Thomas Street. Sadly, I don't even know the name (if it even has one). It is one of those places that you are brought to, I would never have gone otherwise. It is a small room rented out in a large building that is always full of customers. People sit on whatever they can find including overturned milk crates. You order while you wait and mill about out front with the other 15 or so customers until the waitress calls you over. As you squeeze between the tables, you arrive at a table already laden with food. Everything I've had there has been delicious - thick homemade noodles with a sour-sweet sauce, floury pancakes with moreish meat filling that I spoon onto anything I can get my hands on, as well as the best hot & sour soup with thick meaty strips of black Chinese mushrooms. The decor is wonderfully bizarre, yarn tapestries of cows and fake plastic grape vines that hide the ceiling. I have a fondness for kitsch and appreciate that it provides a little clue for finding this hidden gem. Lastly, I love the restaurant Svens, a Swedish wood-fire pizzeria. My favorite pizza is called Ragnarök - "Judgement Day", complete with chorizo, smoked ham, pancetta, pepperoni and chili creme - so delicious!

You're experiencing summer right now, and I am so jealous. What foods are exciting you? Can you describe it in detail and make all of our mouths water - we're in winter's dark trenches so please share anything you've got!

Image top left, Frida Kahlo, Lágrimas de coco (Coconut Tears),1951
Oil on masonite, 22.8 x 29.8 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I traveled to New Zealand during Christmas break and while walking along the harbour I found half a coconut on the rocks. To me, a girl from Flint, Michigan, the idea of a coconut washing up onto the shore was utterly romantic and for this reason the first post of the new year featured coconuts. To combat the summer heat I selected a smooth coconut milk ice cream - the combination of flavours couldn't be tastier: sweet coconut milk, sour lime juice and spicy ginger, with thick slices of caramelized papaya.

More on Megan Fizell: Here is a great piece on Megan's Top Ten Favorite Things on the blog, Parliament of Two.

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