A surreally sensual love letter to the palate.
“When I was six years old,” Salvador Dalí once professed, “I wanted to be a cook.” But it wasn’t until his late sixties that he channeled his childhood fantasy into Les Diners de Gala (public library) — a lavishly illustrated cookbook, originally published in 1973 and featuring Dalí’s intensely erotic etchings and paintings. The twelve chapters each cover a specific class of dishes — from exotic courses to fish and shellfish to vegetables — rendered with a surrealist twist both gastronomically and aesthetically, but nowhere more so than in the tenth chapter, dedicated to aphrodisiacs.
Prefacing the recipes is Dalí’s unambiguous cautionary disclaimer, penned at the dawn of the first major dieting era of popular culture:
We would like to state clearly that, beginning with the very first recipes, Les Diners de Gala, with its precepts and its illustrations, is uniquely devoted to the pleasures of Taste. Don’t look for dietetic formulas here.
We intend to ignore those charts and tables in which chemistry takes the place of gastronomy. If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you.
Also found throughout the book are Dalí’s amusingly dramatic proclamations, vacillating between the semi-sensical and the philosophic, applied here to the realm of gastronomy. To wit:
I only like to eat what has a clear and intelligible form. If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty.
I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular. The opposite of shapeless spinach, is armor. I love eating suits of arms, in fact I love all shell fish… food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate.
The Jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge. Disgust is the ever present watchman of my table, sternly overseeing my meals obliging me to choose my food with caution.
CONGER OF THE RISING SUN
6 slices of conger eel
6 slices of fatty bacon
1 caul (casing which will be stuffed)
12 small lettuce leaves
12 oz raw soya beans (or canned soya)
6 teaspoons of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon of curry powder
First of all, let us prepare the slices of conger eel by removing the skin and the central bone, one by one. Then place the pieces on a strip of bacon (cut to match the size of the piece of eel) and each of these on to a much larger piece of the caul. Add salt and pepper, then, on each piece of the eel, put a leaf of lettuce, on top of which you add 2 oz of soya beans (raw soya is the best, but canned soya will do). Sprinkle then with curry powder, salt, pepper. Pour a teaspoon of heavy cream over it, cover with a second leaf of lettuce and tuck in the caul on the four sides to wrap up all the ingredients of this recipe.
Using a very large skillet cook the fish slices on top of the range, simmering slowly, in a tablespoon of butter for 40 minutes. Be sure to go about it gently. Remove the slices and keep them warm; in the skillet, add the flour. Do not let it get brown; combine with the heavy cream and curry, taste for seasoning. Let it all boil for a little while and pour over the slices of the conger eel.
2 ¼ lbs of crayfish (or shrimp)
2 quarts of water
2 tablespoons of paprika
1 lb of veal chopped
4 fistfuls of rice
4 egg yolks
In a big pot you pour the water, salt, a dash of Cayenne pepper, paprika, saffron, chopped veal, and rice.
As soon as the broth begins to boil, crush your crayfish in a mortar, one after the other. Be sure to really crush them to a pulp and add them progressively to the broth. Keep it boiling for 45 minutes.
The broth is then strained “Chinese style” i.e.; in a sieve that you can push with a wooden spoon so as to get all the juice out. Put back on the fire, stir and add the egg yolks without letting it boil. Your consommé is ready. May I suggest that you serve it with thin garlic toasts.
THOUSAND YEAR OLD EGGS
1 dozen eggs
1 ½ quarts of water
5 whole cloves
3 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of vinegar
2 lemons (cut in 8 pieces)
¾ teaspoon of thyme
2 cloves of garlic
You certainly know these thousand year old eggs, one of the crowns of Chinese cuisine. We will not presume here to reach their ultimate perfection, but we will simply try to help you follow an amusing recipe which has the advantage of being prepared ahead of time.
First, boil the eggs for ten minutes in salted boiling water. Then take them out, put them under cold running water which will make it easier to shell them. In the same water in which the eggs had boiled, add the cloves, sugar, vinegar, a lot of Tabasco sauce, the lemons (cut in eighths) and thyme. Boil for 15 minutes. Shut off the flame, dip in the tea-bag and let them steep for 10 minutes.
In a jar, put the diced onions and garlic. Add the shelled eggs, and pour the broth so that the eggs are completely immersed. Close the jar and keep it on the lower shelf of your refrigerator.
Be patient for three weeks before opening the jar and serving. These eggs go well with cold meats and fish.
TOP ROUND “EROS”
1 tablespoon shortening
1 Toulouse sausage
2 lbs top round
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 onions sliced
6 tomatoes seeded and cut into pieces
2 red peppers
6 stalks celery
3 quarts water
First buy the sausage then hand it over to your butcher so that he can cut a piece of top round that will wrap around it. Fry the sausage in the shortening for about 10 minutes. Brush the one side of the top round with mustard; put the anchovies on top, then the sausage, roll, tie up with string.
In a Dutch oven, brown the meat in shortening. When the meat turns golden, replace it with the onions, and when they are golden, add the tomatoes as well as the garlic and red peppers.
Cover after a while. The tomatoes will produce a juice and start boiling; put the meat back and salt carefully (because of the anchovies).
Simmer gently for 1 ½ hours.
Pare the celery stalks, cut off the green parts and tips of leaves, peel the root.
Cut it in half and wash thoroughly, especially between the leaves.
Bring salted water to a boil and cook the celery for 15 minutes. Cool under running water. After half an hour, place the celery around the top round.
It will cook in the meat juice for one hour.
The juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon bitters (Campari)
1 teaspoon ginger
4 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons old brandy (Vielle Cure)
1 pinch Cayenne pepper
This is quite appropriate when circumstances such as exhaustion, overwork or simply excess of sobriety are calling for a pick-me-up.
Here is a well-tested recipe to fit the bill.
Let us stress another advantage of this particular pep-up concoction is that one doesn’t have to make the sour face that usually accompanies the absorption of a remedy.
At the bottom of a glass, combine pepper and ginger. Pour the bitters on top, then brandy and “Vielle Cure.” Refrigerate or even put in the freezer.
Thirty minutes later, remove from the freezer and stir the juice of the orange into the chilled glass.
Drink… and wait for the effect.
It is rather speedy.
Les Diners de Gala is now so rare that surviving copies, to say nothing of those very rare signed ones, cost a fortune. Complement it with more little-known treasures at the intersection of food and the arts, including The Futurist Cookbook, The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, Dinah Fried’s beautiful photographs of meals from famous fiction, and Wild Raspberries, the little-known cookbook young Andy Warhol did with his mother.
For more of Dalí’s lesser-known creative projects and commissions, see his illustrations for Don Quixote, the essays of Montaigne, Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, The Divine Comedy, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.