Interview with Tasha Marks food historian and founder of AVM curiosities

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I’ve been a massive fan of both AVM curiosities and it’s fonder Tasha Marks ever since I discovered my love of experimental food design and art. AVM (Animal Vegetable Mineral) Curiosities explore the relationships between food and art through events, talks and edible interventions. I was lucky enough to work for Tasha at some of her events as well as helping her put together her window at Selfridges for their “Bright Young Things” showcase. She kindly granted me an interview for this blog to give us a deeper insight in what makes her tick, what AVM Curiosities has been up and what is coming up next. Enjoy.

So I know you studied Art History at Sussex University, can you pinpoint the moment that you decided that a focus on food history was the path you wanted to take? What was the initial inspiration for focusing on food history?

At University I was lucky enough to be offered a final year course on the history of food and dining from 1300s – present by V&A curator Ann Eatwell. Up until then my studies had focused on the origins of museums, specifically cabinets of curiosity, so bringing these two influences together provided a eureka moment where the sensory elements of food and the cerebral nature of the museum could be brought together to create something new.

I hear you have quite the collection of historical books, what would you say are your top three favourites that you return to again and again for inspiration?

My favourites would have to be 1000 Curious Things Worth Knowing c.1850, Sweets: A History of Temptation by Tim Richardson and The Compleat Confectioner by Hannah Glasse.

You worked with Bompas and Parr in the past, what was it like working with them?

A fantastical sticky adventure! Their sky’s-the-limit attitude and creativity was wonderful to be a part of.

So what was the first event you did as AVM Curiosities?

It was the Miracle Berry Banquet, which was a collaboration with the Rambling Restaurant and the Urban Physic Garden. Guests were treated to a three-course meal that explored sweets and sour herbs, ending with a miracle berry* dessert table. (* a miracle berry is a fruit which reverses your taste buds and makes sour things taste sweet)

Out of all the events and interventions AVM Curiosities has created, what would you say has been your favourite?

It’s hard to pick! It would probably be a tie between Toxic Treats: A Dark History of Britain’s Sweets, which was an interactive lecture on the sinister side of counterfeit confectionary in Victorian London, and Ambergris, which was my solo show at Herrick Gallery.

So congratulations! You’ve been chosen by Grey Goose vodka as one of their Iconoclasts Of Taste, could you describe the cocktail you invented for them? I’ve tried it luckily and I must say its yummy! What was the inspiration behind the drink and how to did you come to the final recipe?

I found out where the cocktail would be served before I had come up with the recipe so I wanted to make the drink site specific, make sure that people knew that the Gilbert Scott, St Pancras, would be the best place to premiere it… so I took the opening date of the venue, 1873, and decided to theme the drink around that date. 1873 is one of the latter years of the Pre-Raphaelites so I decided to go for a drink based around Millais’s painting of Ophelia and theme the flavours around the characters last lines in Hamlet where she rants and raves about the flowers. And the drink was served!

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You’ve also been chosen as one of Selfridges’ Bright Young Things for 2013 creating your own window display? Could you tell me a little about it?

The Selfridges window installation was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate AVM’s central themes of food, art and history in an ‘Edible Cabinet of Curiosity’, containing everything from an antique hippo skull to 1082 luminous gobstoppers! The window design also complimented my t-shirt and products, which were on sale in store.

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So you’re an Iconoclast of Taste, a Bright Young Thing and you’ve giving talks at the V&A. What’s next?

Next I’m working on my most ambitious project to date called, The History of the World in 100 Sweets. It will be launching in early 2014 so the details are all top secret for now, but you can join my mailing list to be the first in the know…

Tasha Marks | Animal Vegetable Mineral | October 2013

http://www.avmcuriosities.com

Image Credits:
Tasha Marks – Photo Philip Sinden courtesy of Grey Goose, http://www.avmcuriosities.com
Edible Art Class – The London Sinner, http://www.thelondonsinner.com
Bright Young Things – Selfridges, http://www.selfridges.com

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ElBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food

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In August I visited the ElBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food exhibition at Somerset House. As a huge fan of Adria’s food and work it was the closest I was going to get to actually eating there.

ElBulli has always fascinated me, I recently watched the documentary ElBulli: Cooking in Progress (2011) and was blown away by their meticulous detail and pretty much scientific approach to food and the effect on the senses. The strange thing about the documentary was how much some of the processes they were experimenting with, and the end results they were recording, like mouthfeel, crunch, scent etc, reminded me of the food testing and experiments used in the processed food industry (I’ve been reading a lot of books on the ‘crap’ food industry lately, more of that in later posts). However El Bulli uses them in a far more creative and interesting way, as its not about profit margins and units sold, but as an experience challenging perceptions about food.

I was really looking forward to the exhibition, had no idea what to expect as it must have been difficulty to create an exhibition about food, which involves all the senses, in a traditional art gallery setting.

You enter the gallery with the walls papered with magazine covers with Ferran Adrià and ElBulli featured on all of them. Then you enter the first floor of the exhibition and its all a bit meh. The best thing in the first room was a giant Bulli (Bulldog) made for the El Bulli restaurant closing day by Christian Escribà and Patricia Schmidt. It was made from meringue, with the flowers and necklaces made from different sugar pastes and caramel pieces. It was truly a hulking great big masterpiece of sugar craft. However the rest of the room was a bit dull, there were some cards on the wall listing all the different staff over the years and a video playing, I believe it may even have been the documentary mentioned about) and a case containing the aforementioned Bulli alongside some memorabilia from the restaurant such as signed chef whites.

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The next room was even more dull, as a fan of El Bulli and someone whose life is devoted to food past, present and future I really didn’t need to see a timeline explaining the roots of Adrià’s food in Nouvelle cuisine. I would’ve enjoyed learning about the history of the restaurant but it was presented in such a dull, uninteresting way I found myself wandering off fairly quickly. It was a strange lay out and all of the information, such as the menus, personal letters etc were rather difficult to read. All in all it was a bit meh, it was also quite disappointing as it seemed like that was the entire exhibition, not realising (thank god) that there was another floor.

The upper floor was better and a relief and change from the lower rooms. The first room had a wall covered in (ipad?) screens showing demonstrations of different food processes used at the restaurant. They were fairly engrossing, I found myself staring at just one for about 20 minutes. This particular room also included a table which you were able to sit at which had a projection of the full El Bulli meal going on complete with ghostly diners hands.

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In the next room there were display cases full of plasticine components of dishes there were assembled into model dishes presumably to experiment with layout and the final design of dishes. There was also a display case full of all the custom made dishes/stands/cutlery etc that El Bulli used (though as someone who has finished 3 years studying 3D Design it takes much more than a case overstuffed with pressed pieces of metal and heatformed pieces of plastic to impress).

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There was a case with all their bits of techno wizardry in which seemed a fairly pointless display, as we’ve entered an era where we’re are increasingly obsessed with food, cooking and chefs I’m not sure an espuma gun is going to shock and amaze a visitor who has both one at home and who also owns the El Eulli molecular gastronomy kit.

Towards the end of the show there’s an interview with late artist Richard Hamilton which literally made us burst into fits of inappropriate, uncontrollable giggles. The interview was fine, bit dull as it was Hamilton droning on about Ferran Adrià and the food and El Bulli and comparing it all to Duchamp and Shakespeare. The reason it was so funny was his wife in the background has the most hilarious look on her face, a perfect mix of boredom and murder. I’m sure Hamilton’s interview was very interesting but it paled in significance next to the look on his wife’s face.

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The exhibition was all a bit meh. It was obviously designed by a media/PR firm in Shoreditch who thought they were being creative and foreward thinking by displaying doodles from Adrià’s notebooks on the walls (yawn). It was also odd that a exhibition about the most creative and innovative restaurant in the world couldn’t have pumped some smells around the place, or had a scratch and sniff, or something food related that didn’t involved reading squiggles on a wall or watching on a screen. The exhibition also focused an awful lot of Adrià’s celebrity, from the magazines papered over the walls as you enter, to the Simpson’s cartoon and his receiving a standing ovation from his staff as he enters the room in his documentary.

The entire show seemed to scream exclusivity and an unspoken warning against lesser mortals trying such things at home (which is really just snobbery isn’t it?). As someone who will probably never taste Adrià’s food, due to lack of funds or opportunity, I went to this exhibition hoping to get a little closer to it. I was disappointed.

Éléa Nourand-Apisoap

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Another fellow graduate from 3D Design is Éléa Nourand, her whole degree show work was centered around localism, biodiversity and recycling, one project, TRUC, features products created from recycled plastic shopping bags. The range includes a bag, egg carrier and even her business cards are made from plastic bags! However it is her range of ethical and natural cosmetics that I loved. Although Apisoap isn’t technically edible it’s still bloody lovely. It is a range of locally sourced, ethical and environmentally sound soaps and cosmetics that combine flax and bee products to make yummy yummy products.

The project was a response to the lack of questioning that goes on with our cosmetic products, nowadays we question everything in our food, we want to know where it is from, what it contains and the names of the farmer, pig or carrot. However if you attempt to read the back of a shower gel or soap packet I doubt many of us would know what the hell is in them! Even supposedly ‘natural’ products contain long sciency technical names. If these were food products we’d be demanding more clarity. Surely the same rules should apply for things we put in ourselves and on ourselves!

“People use soap everyday but do not question what it is made of. I have created a soap made of local bee produce and locally sourced ingredients such as Flax oil, rapeseed oil and hemp oil. I have attempted to engage people in the process and make-up of the product through the composition of the material and its form. The ApiSoap is a ‘well-being’ product, made to respect the human body and promote a bio-diverse, local environment.”

The series of soaps made from natural ingredients, including bees wax and flax extracts, are all hand made by Éléa herself. They smell yummy and the ingredients have be touted as gentle natural alternative for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions. The products also serve as a reminder to us that we often forget the cocktail of chemicals we slather on our selves day in day out with little knowledge (or perhaps care?) about what exactly is in these products, where the contents have come from and the negative impact such ingredients can have on the environment. Its an interesting and innovative idea to transfer concerns about ethics and locality usually associated with food products, onto cosmetics.

The soaps themselves are beautifully presented, each piece hexagonal in shape mimicing the bees hives where many of the ingredients have come from. The different ingredients and images of the production process were display too, presenting the manufacturing process with a transparency not usually associated with cosmetics manufacturers! The bee element is also extremely relevant at the moment, Éléa has tapped into a worldwide concern about rapidly declining numbers in the bee population and the subsequent collapse of our fragile ecosystems. I think the soap is subtle in its intent but also just a really nice, well made product that smells amazing and is kind to both your skin and the environment.

I intend to place an order for some lovely hand made bars of soap immediately, I would pay a high price for a product like this, like I would pay a high price for quality, local and organic food. I wish Éléa the best of luck in all her future endeavors and hope to see Apisoap on (local) shop shelves soon.

eleanouraud.com

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Freya Collingwood-Encased

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”Encased’ are a collection of dark chocolate suitcases with mystery fillings, just as luggage is personal to each individual, so is taste. Each case has a different filling such as; chilli, strawberry, coffee, white chocolate, almond, wasabi, pistachio..’

The project concept by a another coursemate from Brighton, Freya Collingwood. Freya’s entire final project was a discussion about luggage, it’s history, its present, how we use it, and what it says about us. Encased was side project that didn’t make it into the final show, but as a self confessed Gourmand/fatty with a lust for chocolate this is probably now one my favorite projects of hers.

However I don’t just like the project because it’s food and/or chocolate (though that is a good reason). I also think it’s very clever and quite lovely. I wonder whether the suitcases could be eaten Russian roulette style, so you don’t know what your going to get? It could evoke a personal memory of lost or switched luggage. Or perhaps they could be customisable? Perhaps a particular combination of flavours reminds you of a loved one?

The creation of a chocolate version of a suitcase is an intersting oxymoron, luggages is designed to keep the insides hidden and together, the suitcase has to be sturdy enough so it doesn’t break open and secure enough so things don’t spill out. With the chocolate the whole point is that you get inside to the contents, if the outer shell was strong enough to stop the filling coming out you’d break your teeth!

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance yet to taste these suitcase shaped delights but I will report back if and when I can convince Freya to let me try a few, if only for ‘professional’ purposes.

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freyacollingwoodesign.co.uk

New Designers 2013 – Looking Back

Hot, sticky, knackering, interesting, fun, tiring, hot, all words that could describe the week spent exhibiting at New Designers 2013. Its been almost a week since it finished and my feet still hurt from standing around for 8 hour stretches.

As much as I complained in moments of boredom and foot soreness it was a really interesting and even educational experience. As much as the 3D Design degree show was a crash course in display and idea communication for me, we did have tutors and technicians on hand pretty much all day every day to advise and help us put it together. At New Designers, compared to some courses we had very little input from the university, they didn’t help us pay for the stall in any way and the two tutors that dropped in to help did it out of the kindness of their hearts rather than because of some course related obligation. Therefore we were pretty much left to do it ourselves, which means we learned far more about organising and putting together such a big group show ourselves as we’d had to do it ourselves. Although there was some flaring tempers and curtness with each other at times, we did get it done, on time and without any major hiccups or fuck ups.

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The previous post was about the first day of ND and the private view so I’ll continue from there. Thursday was not so fun in the morning, minor-ly hung over but determined to go in there were a few decidedly pale and drawn faces hanging around for the longest day of the week. The next three days were spent in the hottest building known to man on the sunniest days of the year so far! But we all soldiered on, taking it in turns to rest our feet in the few chairs we managed to purloin from a nearby cupboard. Every time someone came over to look at some ones work they would have to jump up and corner them for a chat. Every time you did this you were pretty much guaranteed to lose your seat to some one who had been hovering. As it got nearer and nearer to the end of the show and we were hotter, stickier and more tired, people became less inclined to talk to people, taking longer to get up as they deliberated whether talking to another disinterested school child or person who wasn’t that interested in the first place was worth losing a seat for.

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Some exciting things did happen during the week, it wasn’t all boredom and sitting around fanning ourselves with spare catalogs. One of our own, Joshua Barnes, won a British Design Council Future Pioneer award for his Augmented Quilt, a quilt designed to relieve loneliness for children staying for long periods of time in hospital. The quilt is covered in patchwork images which can be linked to messages from family and friends which can be viewed on a smart device. Like QR codes but with images.
The award ceremony itself was really fun, not only as there was free booze and Bompas and Parr jellie, but because the judges presenting the awards read like a whose who in the design world. Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh creator of Sugru was there, Jay Osgerby of Barber Osgerby and Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer from the Design Council. We were all delighted for Josh and I got to eat amazing Bompas and Parr jelly!

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The jelly was brilliant, I ended up having to eat mine with no hands, face straight into plate, as my spoon holding hand was occupied with a glass of wine. They were truly delicious but we couldn’t quite figure out the flavours, even though they were really familiar, all we know is there was a blue one and one that was definitley alcoholic. Yum. And of course there was the decorative display of gelatine heavy display jellies in all kind of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes.

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So there were highs and lows of New Designers, the lows being how knackering the show was, the heat and my personal expectations being so high. Although I wasn’t expecting to land a job, sell everything, have a billion commissions and win all the awards and I did make a couple of contacts I think you can’t help compare yourself to what has happened to your peers. Awards were won, work was sold, jobs and internships were offered, all to other people. I suppose one thing I did learn, specifically about my work and where it ‘fits’ in the world, is that it weird and needs explaining. Although not having my wall graphics there meant I was forced to talk to people about my work having the info there does mean people engage with it and ‘get it’ much faster. So that’s something to remember for the future!

So we’ll see what the future holds with shows now, there’s been vague murmurs about doing something together at London Design week but it’s highly likely that most of us will never see each other again, let alone show together! So I wish everyone the best of luck in all their future endeavors, well done us for pulling off a great show and I will see everyone at graduation!

joshuabarnes.co.uk/augmented-quilt

New Designers Day One

Day one of the show: So the University of Brighton 3D Design stand is finished and we’ve opened shop today. We completed the build yesterday evening after some frayed tempers and minor setbacks but it looks brilliant and is very different to the other stalls at the show. This first day (Wednesday) has been extremely long, we started at 9am and weren’t out until after 9pm, as we had the judges coming round in the morning and early afternoon and then it was press o’clock from 3, lots of hovering near our work, smiles and in depth explanations.

There hasn’t been much chance to have a wander about yet but the little that I have seen is really interesting. The nearest stalls to us are Northumbria University and The Cass. It’s an interesting mix of work, ours being a mix of conceptual mental bits, The Cass full of woodwork and furniture bits and Northumbria with a selection similar to The Cass but more product/design like, less craft. And we figured we were right next to both the cocktail bar and the awards ceremony! Result.

The private view was fun, Absolut is one of the sponsors so there was a queue a mile long for their three freebie drinks, original vodka and cranberry (the best one), mango vodka and apple and raspberry vodka and lemonade. Yum. There was also the various awards. Unfortunately our lot didn’t win anything this year but it was an interesting evening, there was a talk from Dick Powell of SeymourPowell design consultants (I was a teeny bit disappointed as there were rumors it was going to be Sir Terence Conran presenting) and it didn’t drag on which is always good. No Oscars style acceptance speeches. And although alot of the winners’ work weren’t my kind of thing (more on this to follow) congratulations to them all anyway.

Post shmoozing we were fairly sedate, a few drinks at the pub and then home, Ihink the 8am start the day before finished every one off. It opens proper like tomorrow so we all need a good night’s sleep before we meet our adoring public.

New Designers is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so do come and visit. We’re at stand number FP34 at the back of the mezzanine so come and say hi. Below is a picture of the whole crew post set up. Happy and knackered. See you at the show.

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Pippa Smart-Pip project

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Pippa Smart is a coursemate who’s edible (ish) project has intrigued me from the very beginning of the year. She describes her degree show projects as the products of considering overlooked and undervalued resources. One of her projects is about re using waste expanded polystyrene to make new and interesting products from glasses frames to chip forks. However it is her other project, “Pip Project” that tickled my fancy.

England once had a rich history in orchard fruit growing, there are over 2,000 varieties of apples in England yet just two varieties, Gala and Braeburn dominate almost half the market and we also, for some weird reason, import apples! One of the organisations reviving this lost orchard culture is the Brighton Permaculture, Pippa spent her weekends volunteering for them.

During these weekend visits she collected waste apple pulp from their juicing operations and turned it into apple leather, yes you can create leather from apples, which she has then turned into a series of bowls. Which you can eat! However I tried the apple leather in a tutorial and lets just say its chewy, very very chewy. You could even say like leather…

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As I’m a big fan of the current issue manifested in 3D objects especially food issues, and I like apples, hence the interest in Pippa’s project. It’s a edible way to highlight the loss of a cultural heritage as well as an awful lot of apple varieties. I hope this project will help promote the Brighton Permaculture Trust and make people more aware of what we are losing in our never ending desire for uniformity in taste and appearance when it comes to food. I’m sure there are some slightly more knobbly and knarly varieties of apples that taste amazing! I think I’m going to steer clear of eating the apple leather again but I may drag boyfriend on a trip up to the Trust and taste some of their juice and learn about apple. Sounds like an interesting Sunday…


www.pippasmart.co.uk


www.brightonpermaculture.org.uk

Critical Practice Degree Show Seminars-Food Farming and the Environment

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I was lucky enough to attend a seminar on Tuesday 11th June “How Can We Prevent Food Waste?” hosted by Vera Zakharov from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership , organised by Critical Fine Art Practice student Milly Cheetham. The discussion revolved around, funnily enough, food waste, specifically in Brighton and Hove. It was a fun interactive seminar opening up discussions about how food is wasted, what is being done locally in regards to reducing food waste and how we at home can reduce our food waste.
It was a great seminar and I wish Milly the best in all her endeavors as she continues to work as an artist dealing with issues around food, farming and sustainability.

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The Gourmand

Just pre ordered my second issue of the Gourmand a pretty new food and culture quarterly. With a broad mix of articles ranging from food photography, film reviews, interviews with everyone from chefs to actors and with a nifty little recipe section back.
A cool little magazine for indulging in all things Gourmand

The Gourmand

Fire and Knives

Just finished my copy of Fire and Knives Issue 13. Started by Tim Hayward this is a magazine that brigns together a variety of different food writers/bloggers/etc write a variety of articles that would not have been printed anywhere else. Celebrating the amateur rather than the expert.

“I could say that F&K naturally facilitates a coming together of foodwriters who can’t find a home for their best work with readers desperate for something stimulating.
I could say F&K is a desperate last bastion of quality food writing in an environment of ‘lifestyle’ pap.
Or I could stop being so pretentious and just say it’s a nice little magazine about food that looks lovely and doesn’t make any money”
Tim Hayward, stacksmagazine.com

New issue is ordered and hopefully on its way!