Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘food’

09 NOVEMBER, 2011

Carl Warner’s Whimsical Food Landscapes

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What the London skyline has to do with asparagus, rhubarb, and Pink Floyd.

British photographic artist Carl Warner, whom you might recall as one of our favorite architects of edible landscapes, is a master of food and form, crafting astounding fantasy food landscapes that are part Ansel Adams, part Anthony Bourdaine, part your childhood daydreams dreamt from the counter of your grandmother’s kitchen. These miniature vignettes are painstakingly hand-crafted with only minimal Photoshop involvement and exude a kind of vibrant whimsy that stands in stark contrast with the mundane, dully ordinary ingredients Warner uses. Food Landscapes collects Warner’s most magnificent work, alongside detailed production notes and ingredient lists for each scene.

Making landscapes out of food seems like a rather unusual thing to do for a living, and people often ask, ‘What made you start doing this?’ It seems that the burning heart of this question is really the curiosity about what it is that motivates any human being to do something out of the ordinary, and my short answer to this is usually a simple, because I had the idea and I chose to do something about it.” ~ Carl Warner

Salmon Sea

Smoked salmon sea, dark soda bread rocks, sugar and pinto beans sand and pebbles, foreground rocks from new potatoes and parsley; pea pod and bean sprout boat, side of salmon sky

Coconut Haystacks

Parsley trees with horseradish trunks, red cabbage sky, toasted almonds as distant haystacks, and loaves of bread for hills

Chinese Junk

The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

And since we’re on the subject of influences today, Warner traces the kernel of his inspiration to the work of Tessa Traeger, a food photographer who in the early 1990s published A Visual Feast, a collection of painterly, two-dimensional pictures composed using food. Warner wondered whether he could take this a step further and create three-dimensional vignettes with food. Then, one day, as he was strolling through the fruit and vegetable market, he noticed the curving trunks and parasol canopies of portobello mushrooms were reminiscent of trees in the African savannah. He quickly grabbed the mushrooms and some grains, and headed back to his studio to create a tabletop scene that would photograph like a larger landscape. The rest was creative history.

Of his start with photography, Warner recounts:

For me, drawing and music were a means of escape into other worlds and alternate realities, and this provided the means to stimulate and exercise the muscles of my imagination. This went on for years, until I discovered photography. I found that I could photograph the real world but make it surreal by the techniques and the processes I was able to use in the camera and in the darkroom. I soon realized that this was a lot quicker than drawing, and I was able to develop ideas and concepts with more ease… At the same time, album cover art was in its heyday, and graphic designers such as Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis were creating amazing surreal images for bands like Pink Floyd. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Celery Rain Forest

Canope made of okra with dried chili oarsman, tiny mushroom hat and a cardamom pod; path: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and lentils

Cart & Balloons

Balloons made of red onion, apple, garlic bulb and other fruits; balloon baskets: nuts; hills and fields: bread, cucumber, string beans, green beans, corn, asparagus

Broccoli Forest

Broccoli trees, chopped parsley ground, fresh herb plants, small foreground rocks from Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, cumin, turmeric and fennel seed pathway, crusty bread rocks, sugar waterfall, cauliflower clouds

London Skyline

Riverbank walls: panini; lamppost: mackerel, asparagus, onion, vanilla pods; London Eye: green beans; courgette, leek, lemon, rhubarb supports; The Dome: green melon.

A pinnacle of finding magic in the mundane, Food Landscapes is an absolute treat and a living manifesto for the power of truly running with the seemingly crazy creative ideas that take hold of your imagination.

Images courtesy of Carl Warner / Abrams Books

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03 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Table Comes First: Adam Gopnik on the Meaning of Food

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A cultural history of our modern culinary obsession.

It seems to be the season of intriguing food-related releases. From Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite nonfiction writers working today, comes The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food — a fascinating journey into the roots of our modern obsession with food and culinary culture. From the dawn of our modern tastes in 18th-century France, where the first restaurant was born, to the kitchens of the White House to the Slow Food movement to Barcelona’s bleeding-edge molecular gastronomy scene, Gopnik tours the wild and wonderful world of cuisine, with all its concomitant sociocultural phenomena, to explore the delicate relationship between what goes on the table and what goes on around it as we come together over our food. It’s history, nutrition, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology all rolled up into one delectable streusel of insight and illumination, in Gopnik’s unapologetically intelligent yet charmingly witty style.

Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject. When ‘gastronomy’ was on the margins of attention it seemed big because it was an unexpected way to get at everything — the nature of hunger; the meaning of appetite; the patterns and traces of desire; tradition, in the way that recipes are passed mother to son; and history, in the way that spices mix and, in mixing, mix peoples. You could envision through the modest lens of pleasure, as through a keyhole, a whole world; and the compression and odd shape of the keyhole made the picture more dramatic. Now the door is wide open, but somehow we see less, or notice less, anyway. Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is made to matter.” ~ Adam Gopnik

The book opens with Charles Darwin’s famous haikuesque meditation:

We have happy days, remember good dinners.”

Gopnik goes on to explore the two pillars of modern eating — the restaurant and the recipe book — both of which are modern developments, mere blips in evolutionary time, and reflects on their cultural history with his characteristically brilliant blend of keen analysis and ever-so-subtle smirk.

The restaurant was once a place for men, a place where men ate, held court, cooked, boasted and swaggered, and wooed women. The recipe book was traditionally ‘feminine': the kitchen was the place where women cooked, supervised, gave orders, made brownies, to steady and domesticate men. In the myth-world of the nineteenth century, the restaurant existed to coax women into having sex; the recipe book to coax men into staying home.” ~ Adam Gopnik

Deeply fascinating and absorbingly written, The Table Comes First is the kind of read you’ll want to devour in one sitting, despite its Thanksgiving-sized 320-page heft.

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01 NOVEMBER, 2011

Maira Kalman Illustrates Michael Pollan’s Iconic Food Rules

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A diet your grandmother would approve, why boredom isn’t edible, and what peas have to do with time travel.

I love love, love artist Maira Kalman and revere the work of Michael Pollan, easily today’s most vocal and influential advocate of smart, sustainable food. So I’m thrilled with today’s release of a Kalman-illustrated edition of Pollan’s classic compendium, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual — the timelessly sensible blueprint to a healthy relationship with food, now delivered with Kalman’s characteristically colorful and child-like yet irreverent aesthetic. This new edition also features 19 additional food rules, including Place a bouquet of flowers on the table and everything will taste twice as good and When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.

From the very first page, starting with Kalman’s introduction, the book is an absolute — and guilt-free — treat:

Everyone eats food. That is the universal connector. Life is fragile. Fleeting. What do we want? To be healthy. To celebrate and to Love and to live Life to the Fullest. So here comes Michael Pollan with this little (monumental) book. A humanistic and smart book that describes a Sane and Happy world of Eating. It asks us, gently, to hit the Reset button on manufactured food and go back in Time.” ~ Maira Kalman


Treat Meats as a Flavoring or Special Occasion Food

Cook

Don't Overlook the Oily Little Fishes

Shop the Peripheries of the Supermarket and Stay Out of the Middle

Eat When You Are Hungry, Not When You Are Bored

Kalman’s illustrations emanate the kind of thoughtful simplicity that underpins the message of Pollan’s classic, which is based on the premise that the wisdom of our grandparents might teach us more about eating well than the overly complicated nutritional scheming purveyed by the popular media.

Pollan has an excellent audio slideshow on his site.

Already a powerful classic in its original edition, the Kalman-illustrated Food Rules is, quite simply, irresistible.

Images courtesy of Maira Kalman / Penguin Press

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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