Monday, October 29, 2007

RSVP, curated by Germaine Koh, Sun Oct 29

The Beet Goes On

"All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players;"
--from As You Like It by William Shakespeare

An essay. An invitation. A dinner party in Gastropod Restaurant. These are the three components that created the last event in the 2007 LIVE Biennial. It was a lovely, congenial evening. The food was great, and the conversation lively, but it was a strange way to end the festival. I made the reservation for my partner and me before the festival had begun. I was told there was only room for eight people at the table. In the end, there were about 16 of us, but I wonder how many had actually made the reservation without being directly invited by the hosts. I'm guessing there were maybe four of us (general public) at most--a very exclusive event. An event about performed exclusivity.

I could go on at length and talk about the elegant costume the hostess wore, the flawless and attentive service, and the beautifully lit bar that was like a mini-stage in itself with props made of colored liquid and glass. I could put up the photos of the salmon belly amuse, the duck, the lamb and the squid, the three quenelles of sorbet, and the crabapple and sage mignardises, but I won't. It remains exclusive--a memory we paid for "Dutch Treat" to be the audience and the performers. Eating in a Vancouver restaurant is one of the best theatre tickets in town.

As a foodie trained in theatre and fine art, I am finely attuned to the meal-as -performance metaphor. A couple of years ago I was having a heated discussion about food with a philosopher over brunch. He asked me why he should pay so much for a meal at a fancy restaurant when he could buy the same ingredients at home and cook it himself for much less money. "Well, because you miss the theatrics of the whole event!" I countered. "The atmosphere of the restaurant, of being served and entertained by the front of house staff, enjoying food made by a creative chef with many years of training and experience. What about the art of conversation? I haven't even mentioned the not having to do the dishes part. Dressing for dinner. Oh,and the wine cellar. We can't forget that."

One of my favorite moments in the meal at Gastropod was when I'd asked everyone at my table the question, "If you were a farmer, what would you grow?" Without hesitation, the architect said "I'd grow beets!" He was so enthusiastic about the lowly beet and he talked about how he missed the jars of pickled beets from his childhood in Chilliwack. The chef beside me agreed: "I love beets!" he said. "We make a soup at our restaurant (Camille's in Victoria) that is just puréed beets and water, nothing else". A beet-lover myself, I was very pleased we had a shared affection for this humble vegetable at our table. Who would have predicted that we would have bonded over beets?

Lori Weidenhammer


Anonymous said...

Glad to have met you at dinner, Lori.

I'd like to clarify a detail about the format, for accuracy's sake. Ten of the 12 people originally planned to be at the table were members of the public who made reservations according to the advertised guidelines. A couple hours before dinner Gastropod let us know that it was possible to merge that table with one I had booked separately for me and some of the hosts' family. We decided that was a great idea, since the additional guests (a couple restaurateurs from Victoria, an oenophile, a leading diabetes researcher, and me the curator) would likely have something to contribute to a conversation about the pleasures of eating and about performance under pressure. I think it was the right improvised decision, since it produced, at the other end of the table, stimulating debate about the similarities and differences between scientific and artistic conceptualization and about the relative sources of satisfaction in one's work, for example.

Three cheers for beets!
Germaine Koh

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