Food has caught the imagination of the art world as never before. PRIYADERSHINI S. speaks to artists, filmmaker and chefs to find the trend sizzling hot

Food glorious food! It seems to be firing up imagination of painters, poets, scriptwriters, directors, film makers and of course chefs, in a way as never before. Its delectable interpretations are leaving viewers and diners surprised. Where is food moving towards? Does food, which after a point of fulfilment turn epicurean, dissolute and lusty, be a subject of art?

Opinions are diverse and interesting. Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor believes that food being the universal mode of communication will find itself moving out of the plate to other forms of art. Scriptwriter and director Anjali Menon, who has used food successfully in her works, says, “There is food for the belly, food for thought and food for the soul,” implying that its interpretation in art is but natural.

Mahlet Ogbe Habte, an artist from Eritrea, Africa, has made food the centre of her art expression. A Master in Fine Arts, Mahlet holds cooking to be an art. She states plainly, “I don’t see the non art in this. I see only art. Art does not mean only painting, video, and photographs.”

At the Kochi Muziris Biennale she prepared a food market bringing together fishmongers, spice traders, vegetable vendors and common people. “In the process you interact with people, learn about their culture, and get creative. And that is art,” she says. Mahlet presented food art at Gothenburg in the Sweden Biennale in 2011.

On this trend of food in art Chef Kapoor says, “The credit for this goes to globalisation. We might have been doing presentations beautifully in the past, but it was never given this seriousness nor treated as an art, as it is being done now. Today, art and science have come together to the fore on the Indian food scene. We have qualified and skilled chefs who are paid well and we have admirers who appreciate this art and are ready to pay for it. This singular match has triggered the boom. Then, there is the availability of tools to do so, like crockery of all shapes and tools to execute. In short, there is no dearth of paint brushes and colours to draw on the canvas.”

Veteran chef Jose Varkey, Cgh group, harks to the old adage—we are what we eat. He takes classes on Kerala cuisine. He believes that food is directly in tune with Indian spirituality. “Food cannot be savoured just by your tongue or body. It is in your spirit. Art too is connected to the inner self,” he says, drawing parallels between art and food.

Young chef Dominic Joseph has worked with the latest trends in food at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). He says, the term “culinary art” says it all. Personally, food art is the most exciting part of being a chef. The method of dumping food on a plate is passé. Today chefs take great effort on presenting food as part of their personal pride in the profession.”

Food in love song

‘Pickled Thoughts’ an art installation done by the students of Srishti School of Design, Bangalore, at the biennale offers an interesting comment on the interpretation of food in art. Sidhant Shetty, one of the members of the group says, “The stationary aspect of eating allows us to talk and get to know more about each other. We thought food would be a strong base to connect our stories about a wide range of communities in Kochi. Each of them brings in their food habits and foods. It is representation of a culture. At the same time it brings all to ground level because of its value of being a basic need.”

Quoting lines from the film Duplicate, Chef Kapoor says that food is expressed musically in lyrics. “Dheere dheere pyaar ki jo aag jal gai, jitni masti do dilon mein thi ubal gai Iska maza chak loon main zara, fir kahunga main ki dal gal gai…waah ji waah, waah ji waah, waah ji waah waah waah!”

(The fire of love between two hearts has slowly boiled over, let me taste the fun and then tell you whether the lentils have cooked or not!)

Anajli Menon reiterates the sentiment and talks about Sufi saint Rumi’s extensive usage of food metaphors in his poetry. Her encounters with food in art have been exciting. The script for Ustad Hotel, she informs, came about serendipitously. She had researched on food in hotel kitchens way back in 1998 for a television documentary that did not come about. Later she used the research matter in the script for Ustad Hotel. Anjali says that an impromptu food feast marked the ending of the shooting for Manjadikuru. It was like a final hurrah, which, marked months of hard team work. “I was in the kitchen at 10 in the night cooking for the whole crew,” she says, her voice ringing with laughter. The best compliment she received was from a viewer who called in “to say that ‘watching Ustad Hotel was like savouring a belly full of biriyani and watching Manjadikuru was relishing a wholesome sadya. So then food currently is hot as an inspiration having caught the imagination of one and all.

Burp!