Many chefs put so much care into arranging food on a plate that it’s practically a piece of art. It’s rarer that art itself happens to be food, but that’s exactly what happened at the Futurist banquet I attended this weekend. It was inspired by the Futurist Cookbook, which was published in 1932; the cookbook applied the futurist art movement’s ideals (speed, technology, and mechanization) to food. The San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art is currently featuring a show of Futurist art, and the banquet was a tie-in to the show.
The experience was, in a word, bizarre. But in a thoroughly mesmerizing way.
In the course of two hours, I drank grappa that was made from beef heart (surprisingly delicious, but strangely full-bodied), rested my glass on a conveyor belt “bar,” and snagged a manifesto-wrapped piece of panforte that parachuted from the balcony above. I nibbled on halibut-stuffed Early Girl tomatoes—a clever play on Monsanto’s Flavr Savr tomato, which is said to have been genetically engineered from flounder genes. At one point, an airplane zoomed overhead and “dusted” us all with orange flower water, and get this: that orange flower water came from trees planted by the inventor of Agent Orange. How they managed to track that down is beyond me.
|The lead cyclist of the steer-towing team.||Here they are de-foiling the steer.|
The pièce de résistance was unquestionably the spit-roasted steer, which was roasted on a farm within city limits and then towed by bicycle across town and straight into the lobby of the museum (see photos above). The cooks heaved the beast onto a huge custom-made butcher block, cut away the twelve or so layers of aluminum foil, and removed the “skewers” that secured the steer to the spit. Then the butchers—all women—made their grand entrance and got to work (see photo below). In the course of thirty minutes or so, the five or six women skillfully cut away just about every piece of edible meat*, leaving nothing but a huge (intact) carcass. It was an incredible spectacle of anatomy and knife know-how, and a very powerful reminder that the tidily packaged steaks we see in the supermarket were all once part of a giant living being.
|Never mess with a team of highly skilled lady butchers.|
I can’t say the event was particularly true to the cookbook (which I haven’t read, but I hear the recipes are inedible), or even true to most people’s idea of a banquet. But there’s no question that the performance art “fed” my brain just as much as the tomatoes satiated my stomach. And I’ll not soon forget either component!
*Not to worry about all that meat going to waste for the sake of an art project; knowing the pedigree of the folks organizing the event (many of whom worked for Alice Waters), I have no doubt that it will all get eaten one way or another.
The conveyor belt "bar"
The lead cyclist of the steer towing team
De-foiling the steer
Agent Orange (flower water)