Feeding the spirit

R comme reflet La règle, ici, pour que le roman s’invente : qu’un mot en reflète un autre et qu’il en brouille le contour. De billard à pillard1, le reflet trace la route.

1. Dans Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres, on apprend que c’est la transformation d’une première phrase, «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard» en cette autre «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard», qui a produit le roman Impressions d’Afrique.

R as in reflection A ground rule for constructing the novel: each word always has to reflect another, blurring the contours. From billard to pillard,1 the mirror effect paves the way.

1. In Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Books, we learn that the novel Impressions of Africa is based on the transformation of the opening phrase“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard” into this other one“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard.”

The kitchen area, designed by artist and chef Asako Iwama and the studio architects.

R comme reflet La règle, ici, pour que le roman s’invente : qu’un mot en reflète un autre et qu’il en brouille le contour. De billard à pillard1, le reflet trace la route.

1. Dans Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres, on apprend que c’est la transformation d’une première phrase, «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard» en cette autre «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard», qui a produit le roman Impressions d’Afrique.

R as in reflection A ground rule for constructing the novel: each word always has to reflect another, blurring the contours. From billard to pillard,1 the mirror effect paves the way.

1. In Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Books, we learn that the novel Impressions of Africa is based on the transformation of the opening phrase“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard” into this other one“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard.”

Studio Olafur Eliasson. The Kitchen, Phaidon.
Olafur Eliasson’s office, a laboratory of ideas.
Parallel moves in the kitchen and in the studio.

R comme reflet La règle, ici, pour que le roman s’invente : qu’un mot en reflète un autre et qu’il en brouille le contour. De billard à pillard1, le reflet trace la route.

1. Dans Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres, on apprend que c’est la transformation d’une première phrase, «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard» en cette autre «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard», qui a produit le roman Impressions d’Afrique.

R as in reflection A ground rule for constructing the novel: each word always has to reflect another, blurring the contours. From billard to pillard,1 the mirror effect paves the way.

1. In Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Books, we learn that the novel Impressions of Africa is based on the transformation of the opening phrase“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard” into this other one“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard.”

The work of Danish artist Olafur Eliasson is shown and collected worldwide. But his studio is in Berlin, and at its heart is a kitchen, a place of creation fostering ideas and recipes, revealed in a fine book published by Phaidon.

Some places, like some books, leave us wondering just how we’ll feel afterward. Where are we? In Berlin, in Olafur Eliasson’s studio. The building’s strict lines and technical excellence are typical of Berlin. It has been a chocolate factory, a brewery, a printing plant. These three incarnations seem to have created a snowball effect, transforming it into a 2.0 upgrade that now employs an amazing team of 90 people. These include architects, craftspeople, technicians, graphic designers, web designers, filmmakers, archivists and art historians. Moving from one workshop to another, you feel as if another room were opening up in your mind.

And then there are the chefs. There are currently four of them, who are up at dawn to concoct, in the words of Eliasson, inspired, “elegant and intelligent” food for the residents. These women are part of a convivial, self-sustaining ecosystem. They are not just for show, but work to imbue meaning, energy, health, strength and ideas. According to the artist: “They help us to share each other’s company, to communicate, to forget our smartphones. Food here is a vital focus, an energy, a language. It sometimes inspires work sessions on smells or touch.”

Cooking straightforward fare

In short, the cooks are at the heart of everything, sometimes even sharing the same set-ups, the same artisanal gestures (smoothing a cheese like sanding a piece of wood, scooping out a melon like using a screwdriver). The some 100 recipes have all been collected into a book published by Phaidon. Granted, the honest photos make some of them look a bit sad; they lack the usual flashy, sexy appeal of the genre. The reason being is that they take us further, prompting us to think about food differently, a long way from its sometimes toxic, heavy aspect. “Eating at the studio every day keeps the doctor away,” quips Eliasson. The recipes are like friends: indulgent, present, seasonal. They speak of us. They are concerned with our skin, our eyes and our hair. And undoubtedly our thoughts, our dreams and our words. Food is no longer an anecdotal, picturesque element. It occupies the center of an interconnected web of love, humanity and knowledge, with dishes like large Chinese ravioli (baozi); sage-scented white winter soups with root vegetables; tangy chickpea salads; or ricotta- and marjoram-stuffed zucchini.

This morning the cooks are preparing slow-roasted tomatoes. They have chopped the herbs, stripped the thyme leaves and sorted the marjoram. While they may seem to adhere to the strict and somewhat monotonous tenets of a vegetarian diet, they are actually dreaming up new recipes every day. Which don’t always work out: “I thought I had a hit with a rhubarb polenta,” confesses one of them, “but it was a disaster. I was almost too ashamed to come back the next day.”

Create, share, change

Eliasson discusses a sacred trilogy in his book: eat, art, work. He wakes early and says he thinks most clearly before 11am. “Afterwards I work, I activate and then I eat.” It’s 1pm. Eliasson sits at the head of the table in the large, light dining room. Wearing a dark gray shirt, he slowly eats the green beans that come from a nearby farm, the delicious small tomatoes, the tender grains, the soft white cheese and the chopped herbs. We drink water. The various studios intermingle at the table. The cabinetmaker is talking with the Little Sun team, consisting of young pioneers immersed in one of the laboratory’s most recent ventures: Little Sun, designed by Eliasson and the engineer Frederik Ottesen. What’s it about? An LED solar-powered lamp designed for the 1.1 billion people who live in regions that have no electricity supply.

Farther down the table, the webmasters from the “virtual” department are swapping names of good spots in Copenhagen, another of Eliasson’s bases (here’s one for you: Hija de Sanchez, for the exceptional tacos made by this former Noma chef). This Berlin lab is truly like the book we mentioned at the beginning. When it’s good, really good, you ask yourself what it will change in your own life. And that’s exactly what we would wish for you as you immerse yourself in the experience.

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Olivier Darné