11 July 2020
How do we understand the aesthetics of dining? What’s the place of theatre and illusion in the experience of dining?
Leonard Janiszewski & Effy Alexakis
Café ware seduction
Imagine that you’re snared within a phantasmagorical wonderland of dazzling, flashing, coloured lights, bouncing off a multitude of graphically stylised mirrors and highly-polished chrome, glass and faux marble surfaces. An intoxicating fusion of aromas – syrupy sweet mingled with pungent zests – activates your taste buds. ‘Rock Around the Clock’ erupts from the jukebox, challenging the soda fountain’s rhythmic whoosh and gurgle of liquid under pressure. The clinking and scraping of metal against glass is repetitive, but dim. Discordant singing, laughter, and the chatter of gossip emanates from around tabled wooden booths. Self-indulgent gratification intensifies: another round of American-style soda drinks, milkshakes and ice cream sundaes is ordered.
Served in sparkling, sensually stylised metal containers or see-through soda drink glass goblets and ice cream sundae dishes designed to caress both sight and touch, these grails were the most fundamental, tangible, baseline-elements of the overall carnival of illusion, provocatively drawing attention to their contents – a seduction of contrasting colours, textures and fluid forms. This paper will discuss the aesthetics of café, milk bar and soda/sundae parlour ware and its stimulus to food and drink consumption within the context of the overall fantasy of these food-catering businesses.
Documentary photographer, Effy Alexakis, and historian, Leonard Janiszewski, have been researching the Greek-Australian historical and contemporary presence in both Australia and Greece since 1982. Their project and archives, In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, encompasses visual, oral and literary material and is based at Macquarie University, Sydney. Their archive is recognised as one of the most significant collections in the country on Greek-Australians.
Various national and international touring exhibitions, three major books, well over 250 book chapters, articles, conference papers, and three film documentaries have been produced. Of their exhibitions, the most pronounced have been ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ and ‘Selling and American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café’. The former was created in partnership with the State Library of NSW and toured throughout Australia as well as Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece. The latter opened at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, in 2008, and is still touring.
Alexakis’ photographs are held in both public and private collections in Australia – most significantly in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and the State Library of NSW, Sydney. She has been ranked as one of Australia’s leading portrait photographers. In 2001 Janiszewski was awarded the New South Wales History Fellowship to research a history of the ‘Greek café’. Both are Research Fellows with the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University.
The Rise of Immersive Dining
Whilst the aestheticisation of the dining experience is arguably not a recent phenomenon, it has in recent times been subjected to intensive scrutiny, critique and participation from industry, media and consumers.
The techno-emotive legacy of pioneer chefs such as Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal is highly discernable in contemporary Chefs creating multi-sensory dining experiences; ones that are a vortex of cultural markers, culinary art and scientific collaboration and incorporation that, at their centre, are rich in aesthetic detail and intensity.
Within this trend we are seeing an extensional genre within the sphere of multi-sensory dining. One where the sensory relationship between the diner, the food and the environment is focused and controlled to a such a degree that they are immersive, even theatrical, in their nature. Experiences, some of which not hold multiple Michelin stars, where diners are willing to spend as much as $2,000USD each to participate.
However, with such immersion and focus, arguably comes isolation, sensorially if not physically. Commensality, the act of eating and drinking at the same table is a fundamental social activity. If the immersive experience is so individually focused to the extent that the dinner is sensorially isolated, have we not detached ourselves from one of the principle tenets of why we dine in the first place?
This paper aims to map the rise of the immersive dining trend, its place in the genre of multi-sensory dining, Gastrophysics and techno-emotive cuisine and its contribution to the aestheticisation of culinary arts; to answer the question, is this or is this not dining or merely theater with food.
Born and educated in Scotland Neil Gow holds a Masters Degree in Gastronomic Tourism from Le Cordon Bleu and Southern Cross University where he authored a thesis entitled “Leveraging Gastronomic Science & Culinary Trends to Embetter Society’s Ability to Eat Well Now and in the Future”. He is currently undertaking research at Macquarie University in New South Wales into the culinary creative processes employed by contemporary chefs in Australia as well as internationally
He additionally holds a Diplôme Universitaire du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des Arts de la Table from the Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Neil works with a number of internationally recognised culinary and gastronomic organisations and lectures on a range of subjects including Modernist Cuisine, Gastrophysics as well as the Art and Science of Multi-sensory dining.
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