Food and art served up together at Manarat Al Saadiyat

A bold new culinary project comes to Abu Dhabi Art

Caique Tizzi's cacao menu. Chains, like those used to enslave people, snake their way along the tables. Photo: Abu Dhabi Art
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“Since the 2010s, chefs have been acting like contemporary artists, cooking as a way to produce thought,” says French curator Nicolas Bourriaud. “Food evolved from something that was a human need or a form or entertainment to a way of expressing emotions, just like the need for a roof over one’s head developed into architecture.”

He was at Abu Dhabi Art with his CookBook project, which brings artists and chefs together. Bourriaud first developed the project with Italian food critic Andrea Petrini in 2013, and it arrived in Abu Dhabi under the name of Tropical Anthology — with the public able to try the recipes made by the artist-chefs at a restaurant for the first time.

“CookBook blurs the boundaries between cuisine and art,” says Bourriaud. “At some point, you don't know who's a chef and who's an artist, because they both achieve a certain level of imagination and creativity.”

At Larte, the restaurant at Manarat Al Saadiyat, visitors can try in a menu made by Brazilian artist Caique Tizzi. Each day is planned around a different ingredient from the tropics – cacao, cassava coconut, and pineapple – which the artist develops in traditional methods and pairs with new ingredients, mapping how foods travel around the globe.

On Wednesday, the ingredient was cacao, usually used for chocolate, but on this occasion made into a sauce called mole negro, with nuts, dried chilis, and dark chocolate, that Tizzi took from an ancient Mayan recipe. Because its base is made of dried ingredients, the mole sauce can last for decades, being used for several other moles (in which case it is known as a mole madre, or mother mole). Potatoes and sweet potatoes round out the dish, as well as the typical Brazilian dish of farofa – a side with a pleasing grain-like crunch. It is served in a flowerpot and then spread on to the plate.

Tizzi says the food on the plate tells the history of colonialism. His decor for the restaurant emphasises the violence of this encounter: chains, like those used to enslave people, snake their way along the tables, which are festooned in brown (vegan) leather.

“I got all the ingredients from tropical regions and tropical latitudes,” says Tizzi. “They carry a history of colonisation, exploitation and slavery.”

Much like he did with the flowerpot mole, Tizzi has fun with the decor elsewhere. The centrepiece at one of the tables is a tree-sized umbrella made of stacked-up pineapples, referring to two cliches of life in the tropics – umbrellas in sugary beachside drinks, and the sweet pineapples that come from the region.

The menu is complemented by a curated show of artwork based around food. This includes Hicham Berrada’s mesmerising video of chemical reactions in water (Presage, 2007 onwards) and Greta Alfaro's video In ictu oculi (2009) of vultures enjoying – or, rather, tearing apart – a banquet in Argentina.

An installation of speared Turkish delight hangs from the ceiling at the entrance to Larte. Visitors can dislodge one of the morsels from the fishing line, eating their way through Maksut Askar's jewel-like installation.

For Bourriaud, food is a storyteller as well as a site of conviviality, and he sees parallels between how artists and chefs think.

“More and more chefs are exploring things like fermentation, where you use bacteria to enhance taste,” he says. “This has echoes in contemporary art where artists are like shepherds, creating a scenario in collaboration with nature.”

Cook Book also appears at a moment when many artists and curators are thinking critically about food as a resource under strain due to climate change – and, at least for Tizzi, as an indicator of migration patterns. Hayy Jameel in Jeddah opened its space last December with Staple: What’s on Your Plate? — an exhibition and research project that looked at different types of dishes eaten by locals and migrants across the Gulf, and at works that analyse the context around food projection, such as Moza Almatrooshi’s An Edible Gold, about beekeeping in the UAE.

The project also comes out of a long career in which Bourriaud has thought beyond the barriers of the art world. He became famous at the end of the 1990s when he identified a trend where artists, instead of making objects, were engineering social situations. Calling the movement “relational aesthetics", for the idea of an aesthetics of building relations among people, Bourriaud’s writings clarified the work of many of the major artists of the time, such as Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Philippe Parenno.

The insight was prescient. The idea is now so common in the art world that it hardly needs a term to describe it. Bourriaud points to the last Documenta, for which the Indonesian collective ruangrupa invited other groups to participate with different projects, as an example of what might be called relational aesthetics apres la lettre.

“Relational aesthetics started in what we might call a laboratory, of galleries and museums,” says Bourriaud. “It’s now gone out of that box like a Frankenstein – a good Frankenstein."

Updated: November 23, 2022, 12:06 PM