Recently in Art Theory and Cooking Category

Food and Media are Deeply Connected

Food is direct cultural memory;
it nourishes as it keeps us alive and connects us to the past -- our own, our families,' our communities.'

Our media is also direct cultural memory.
It has the fierce ability to nourish our consciousness just as powerfully and to keep us alive to imagine realities other than our own. -- -- Helen De Michiel

carrotsinjeans.jpgWell said! 

This quote is from Helen De Michiel's article, "Toward A Slow Media Practice," in which she outlines the relationships between food and media.  Her ideas are a good platform from which to explore the many ways in which our daily immersion in food and media can make sense as unifying experiences, one nurturing the other. 

Both presenting the same choices about how we choose to address corporate control, local food and media independence, transnational yet grassroots collaborations, fair trade.  And what I like best:  both offering joy.

Michiel goes on to say that "Both Slow Food and Media Arts represent significant niches in our cultural landscape.They are quiet movements built on the ideals of self-determination, community empowerment, and preservation of legacy in a throwaway milieu. While neither valued nor well understood by the mainstream, they both are sustaining individuals and communities with imaginative practices that transform consciousness in a slow and steady flow.

While Slow Food defends endangered foods, we struggle to carve out and protect a public space where independent media arts practices can thrive."

Now I'm going to make a nice breakfast!

Roots and Vision of TexMex Cuisine

Chef and Author Melissa Guerro identifies the Mariame Indians of Texas, the Comanches and others in the roots of today's TexMex cuisine. Melded with the Spanish influence, this delicious cuisine is growing in importance. Like all cultural cuisines, "It can fix the world!"


notes on cooking...

a series of video shorts
"critical thinking about food and its meanings"

3 minutes with a chef, filmmaker or food activist.  The series covers trends in food pathways, food conglomerates, kitchens, farms, labor and entertainment. Issues about social justice and the cultivation of enjoyment and fun. And of course, inventive recipes--delicious taste is IN!

The series uploads one segment weekly on

--a High Definition version is on the Vimeo channel, "Notes on Cooking,"

The series begins with critically acclaimed Chef Iliana De La Vega who speaks out on Mexican cuisine. Her call is for "no more burros!"  Originally from Mexico City and Oaxaca, she currently serves on the Faculty of the Culinary Institute of America and the Center for Foods of the Americas. She is Owner/Chef of El Naranjo in Austin, Texas.
 Other chefs included in the series are:

-Chef Johnny Hernandez, Chef/Owner of "La Gloria" in San Antonio, Texas is acclaimed for his inventive recreations of Mexican street food and regional cuisines. His stellar positions include the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara.

-Chef Hinnerk von Bargen, International Consultant on Restaurant and Culinary Trends, Faculty at the Culinary Institute of America, His chef positions have included hotels and restaurants in Germany, South Africa and China. He is currently authoring a book on Street Foods of the World.

-Chef Melissa Guerra, Host of "The Texas Provincial Kitchen" Television series, author of Tejano and TexMex cuisine cookbooks including "Dishes From The Wild Horse Desert."

-Chef Alain Dubernard, His positions have included chef-owner and general manager of La Balance Pâtisserie in Mexico City, Chef de partie at Hôtel Bristol in Paris, and commis pâtissier/chef de tour for Roux Restaurants Ltd. in London.

See a High Definition version on Vimeo:

Produced by Adán M. Medrano

The series is licensed under Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-alike 

Our link to Mexican Independence Day, September 16, is illustrated by this map that I've used in a previous blog.  This land used to be called Mexico so we celebrate our past. 
But it also used to be called Spain. 
It used to be called France. 

Before our European ancestors arrived it was Caddo, Karankawa, Tonkawa and others.  Which brings me to the realization that: I embrace ALL of my past in order to go beyond "feeding" and truly enjoy "dining."

Two examples of this are 1)  Barbacoa at Houston's "Tierra Caliente" and 2)  Hollandaise Sauce at Houston's "Danton's."

Barbacoa is Barbecue.  Andrew Warnes, University of Leeds, cites the first European mention of the native word, "barbeque," in Christopher Columbus' journal in 1492 as he observed natives roasting iguanas and fish in the Caribbean. (1)  Later the Spanish in Mexico called it barbacoa.

barbacoataco.jpgTierra Caliente serves Mexican barbacoa tacos. Mexican "barbacoa" is beef. It has a long history in this region.  It can be cooked underground (cabeza de pozo--barbacoa de cabeza) or, as the chef, María Zamano, does, on the stove with seasonings that include garlic and.  I promised her I would not talk out of school so you'll have to ask her for her delicious recipe.

María Samano and her husband, Vicente, moved to the Alabama Ice House location a little over a year ago.  Their recipes do not vary from the traditional and that is why you will find that all of the flavors harmonize beautifully.  When you bite one of these tacos, you are in the land of Mexico, Tonkawa and now Texas, with all of its traditions and spice combinations. 

TierraCaliente.jpgThis is very different from taco combinations that simply "juxtapose" ingredients inside a tortilla. Tierra Caliente recipes harmonize.  No clashing juxtapositions here.  In order to accomplish this you have to know your past, both written and oral stories, and taste it. It makes for a fuller dining experience.

The little truck is on 1919 West Alabama.  Perfect for 16 de septiembre.  I loved it.

Hollandaise Sauce
The second example is one of the Five Mother Sauces of Auguste Escoffier.  Chef Danton Nix here in Houston makes an exquisite Hollandaise. 
DantonsPartners.jpgTo do this he has the right blend of egg yolks, butter, lemon and seasonings. The emulsion is whisked together so well that the mouth-feel is sooooo velvety.  OK, I'll stop drooling. ..  And he adds a twist that is his very own, a type of red chile!
Escoffier included Hollandaise as one of the mother sauces in early 1900's basing his work on that of another French culinary giant, Antoine Careme (1800's).  A mother sauce is one to which you can add other ingredients and create derivative sauces.  The derivative that Danton has created keeps the full French flavor of butter, eggs, subtle lemon and then he adds from this land: powdered red chile.  The type of chile? Hope he'll tell me next time, but it is definitely not Chipotle.  I don't mean the paprika some sprinkle on top to color it, no. The chile is part of the Louisiana twist he gives to the entire taste pleasure.  As in Tierra Caliente, it is a beautiful harmony.   

Danton, pictured on the right, explained to me that he is a self-taught chef, that he loves the Gulf coast food he cooks.  We are lucky in Houston that he has a strong understanding and respect for French tradition and of course Cajun because this gives him the ability to create something new, local and derivative of our past. 

Yup, as I said above,
embrace ALL of our past in order to truly enjoy fine "dining."   Happy September 16th!

(1) Warnes, Andrew. (2008). Savage barbecue: race, culture and the invention of america's first food. The University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.

A wonderfully severe, sinister humor video art piece about food and cooking.  Don't expect the approach that:  "Video, like TV,  is a tool whose purpose is deliver food and cooks prancing about as entertainers or "stars."  Nope that would be the Food Network.  Here, the video itself is the content.  And it is a sharp critique.

The artist, Martha Rosler says "An anti-Julia child replaces the domesticated 'meaning' of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration."

She takes kitchen utensils, one by one, in perfectly dead-pan delivery, and changes their meaning.  You won't use an ice pick in the same way again,,,nor a ladle!  Ms. Rosler made this in 1975. I think the critique speaks to today.  I think, we need more.  Let me know your reaction. 


Here's a terrific dessert for your end-of-summer dinner party.  Watermelon (Sandía) and Mexican lime are a natural in Mexican agua fresca, of course, but the addition of Italian Campari may give you pause.  Fear not. It harmonizes beautifully.  The right proportions and blending make this a truly complex bitter-tart-sweet, grown-up dessert.  Glazed Spearmint adds contrast both in texture and color.  Italy's Campari was already connected to Mexico because until 2006 its color used to come from the crushed Cochineal beetle that lives in the nopal, cactus of Mexico and Latin America. 

WtrmlnCampcu2.jpgI first saw the Watermelon-Campari combination in an egg-based savory sorbet featured in the new book, "Cocina de Autor," by Ecuadorian Chef Santiago Chamorro.  I look forward to seeing him at the upcoming CIA Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference and discussing how global our kitchens have become. 

Recipe: (serves 4)

4 cups watermelon cubes
2 1/2 Tbspn Mexican lime juice
1 1/2 fl oz simple syrup (make simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until fully dissolved)
3 oz Campari
12 Spearmint leaves
For mint glaze:
  1/2 cup sugar
  1/2 cup water
  1 Tbsp corn syrup

The method is really very simple.  It's actually the ratio/proportion and balance of the ingredients that is critical.  So, just blend all the first four ingredients until totally smooth and freeze, stirring occasionally, until the sorbet freezes completely.  Scoop into sorbet dishes and garnish with the glazed Spearmint.  I love this dessert.
To glaze the Spearmint leaves, heat the three ingredients in a small pan.  Using a candy thermometer, heat gradually to the soft ball stage, 235º F, and remove from heat.  When it cools down, dip the mint leaves, shake off excess and place them on a platter until you are ready to garnish.  These add a wonderful finishing taste to the sorbet.

"El Bulli: Cooking In Progress"

Just wanted to make this quick post about the 2-hour documentary by Gereon Wetzel that I  saw this week.
"El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" is beginning to screen in theatres here in the US and the critics are somewhat tepid about it.  I loved the film and just wanted to note that the director, in this work, has found creative synchronicity with El Bulli, the restaurant.  For me the film successfully and powerfully shows what it's like to make a serious, personal creative decision.  With no narrative (some critics wanted a voice-over to explain what we are seeing) and no interviews (some think that it is only in  the speaking that the idea is clear), the film gets inside the interactions of chefs, their desires, their personal relationships, the unspoken behaviors that lead to:  the making of a dish and with it the desire to express something new and meaningful.  The film is itself a work of art and the style mimics the style of the El Bulli cuisine which privileges discovery.  This is an example of the relationship of media to food that goes beyond media being a conduit for showing food.  There is an interaction of art forms.

Variety explains well the general US reaction so far, I think: " the pic doesn't have the narrative drive or emotional appeal of a documentary like D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' "Kings of Pastry," but still will serve as a tasty item for fests on its way to broadcast."

I hope that you will see it if and when it shows at your hometown.  I think you'll see synchronicity of film and food.

In our Centro/SouthTexas and Northern Mexico region pinto beans are the staple in all native Mexican-American homes. No exceptions, not ever. It is only restaurants and caterers that pass them over and use black beans in their recipes. PintoBeanCS.jpgIt's not that we don't think black beans are delicious It's simply that for our cuisine they are philosophically incorrect. By this I mean that they are incoherent, out of context and clash with both the techniques of cooking and the complementary flavors of local products, the terroir.

Pinto beans are natural to the flavor profile of our TexMex regional cuisine, to its history. They meld with the flavors and also enhance the other local ingredients.

I've found three reasons that restaurants and caterers pass over what is the natural ingredient of this region and instead serve the more boldly flavored and colored black bean.
1. The restaurant specializes in food that is not of this region: Southern Mexican, Central American, Carribean or Brazilian food. Yum, I'm getting hungry!
2. The restaurant does not specialize in those cuisines but wants to use an ingredient that seems more soigné. Wants to appear current and hip. They try their best to link it to their dishes.
3. The restaurant is unaware of or does not care about flavor profiles of cuisines, about historical relevance, contextual coherence and just wants to serve new stuff.

pintobnhandsml.jpgI like the following paragraph from the University of North Texas College of Arts and Sciences "The Philosophy of Food Project."

"Food has meaning.... Food expresses its culture and history (pizza, jambalaya, sushi), ceremonial function (Eucharist, horseradish on a Seder plate), and customary consumption (hot dogs rather than beef Wellington at a baseball game, champagne rather than milk for a toast). Gustatory aesthetics directs attention to both the sensual and meaningful qualities of food and drink."

So it's worth considering that pinto beans in this region are philosophically correct.

On Coke

By 2020 soda will cause more deaths than cigarettes. soda1.jpg
It's the sugar. An integral part of our growing fast food, high sugar consumption, Coke and other sodas give the illusion of ease and no need to cook. Yes, we've been trained to not cook and therefore we eat badly.
Instead of cooking we watch TV - we watch others cook. In this 21-minute video Mark Bittman gives a lucid, gimmick-free invitation to attend to our eating.

Last night Stewart and Karen Hoover took me (as in treated me) to dinner at Frasca one of the region's highly acclaimed restaurants. The Northern-Italian-inspired food is fresh, direct, but subtle and I found the subtlety hugely enjoyable. The trend in many fine dining restaurants is to load the plate with flavors, lots of flavors, and the outcome, for me, is cacophonous. Frasca does in fact use various flavors in each plate but the elements are expertly studied so that the chemicals lead to a oneness when you taste. My wild sturgeon was on top of a small bed of sweet potato and then just pearl onions and Maitake Mushroom with a light bacon infusion. It was a lavish taste, but subdued -- that's really hard to do.

Karen ordered sunchoke tortelloni with bits of salsify (sal-suhf-eye ) in the sauce.salsify2.jpgThe overall plate was super rich, complex and dynamic -- but calm and balanced. Again, I think that's really hard to do.

WORDS: The waiter explained each of the dishes on the menu in painstaking detail. I was losing patience with him until I remembered what Stewart, who is a Professor of media and anthropology and an expert media theoretician, had said earlier about media. He could understand how taking pictures of food and then sharing them, re-looking at them, brought on an experience of embodiment and intimacy by recalling images and memories. I don't claim to understand this completely, and soon I hope to ask Stewart to explain it, but when I started to listen to the waiter, I realized that his words were intended to evoke images and memories! The ingredients we were about to eat came from a very specific location: cheese from cows grazing in the mountains, near the alps. The fish from those rivers, the sea in that region.
So food really is an experience that evokes images of our memories and locations.

SOUNDS: Chef Heston Blumenthal uses sound to do the same thing, evoke images and memories, when he serves seafood with sounds of the sea coming from an Ipod inside a Conch! Why? To place the diner in a location via memory and imagination.

The waiter did this through his descriptions, words, and I'm sure that the chef has coached each of the waiters to do this carefully.

I look forward to my next meal when I'll play closer to attention to words and sounds.

The Reality of Art and Imagination

I'm taken aback by how clearly Robert Louis Stevenson describes the art process, be it a book, film, video, casserole, sculpture or other:

To Any Reader

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

--Robert Louis Stevenson

Film Makers Should also Cook

The Edible Metaphor is the title of a lecture given by Peter Kubelka at the Berlin Talent Campus. An avant-garde filmmaker, Peter Kubelka explores the relationship between food and film. According to Kubelka, "...everybody who makes films should also cook. Cooking is performing art, and a meal is the ancestral sculpture of mankind. Cooking is the origin of culture, as the mother of all arts. Food, exactly like popular art, constitutes a means of communication. Prepared food is a medium to express thoughts and feelings."

His lecture is here:

Photography and Eating

In his paper, "Embodied Photography and Touring Food," Sung-Yueh Perng makes the connection between taking digital pictures of food during a trip and then being able to taste that food again afterwards by viewing the pictures taken. He associates embodiment with visuality. "With the affordances of digital
cameras, bodily senses can be further connected through capturing various elements that enact viewers' imagination and experiences which relate to their bodily senses."

If I understand the paper correctly, Perng describes the experience of viewing photographs of food as the sharing of embodied knowledge, adding further that intimacy is enhanced.

The paper is here:

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Art Theory and Cooking category.

Digital Art is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.