Mitch’s photowork often provides me a window on some unique, one-off collaborative events, especially in the food world, where energy and creativity continue to bubble along at a full boil. Case in point: Omiomi recently held a “dream food conceptual dinner series” in Oakland, California, in collaboration with Sophia Lorenzi’s Hoste Productions, for IDEO, the global design company, “with color as a guide for memory and emotion, experienced through a blind tasting and shared meal.” The lavish emphasis on color was a chromaphiliac’s dream. With the big, tradition-laden holiday meals coming up, it seems an appropriate time to share the work of people who think hard about food 365 days a year.
When I first saw the photos, they delivered a small shock of the new, yet there was a lot that was familiar too: the sensual emphasis on the forms and colors of plants, the simultaneous sense of abundance and control, the tension between nature and artifice.
“Founded in 2016 by chef and interdisciplinary artist Chelsea Turowsky, OMIOMI is a concept dreamt up in response to a decade of work in the kitchen and a sea of creative influences, including the natural landscape, memory, dream, poetry and heritage.”
Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s meditation on loss and the color blue, was one source of inspiration for the meal. Before it was effortlessly squeezed out of a tube, before 1824, blue was worth its weight in gold, pounded and ground from lapis lazuli coming from a single source in Afghanistan. In gardens blue is still rare and prized, coming in the form of gentians and salvias, maybe agastaches and some clematis too, and its single-minded pursuit can turn sober, sensible people into obsessives. (I’m a recovering salvia-holic myself.)
On this day, blue would be drinkable.
And blue could be ingested.
“And so I fell in love with a color — in this case, the color blue — as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.” Bluets, Maggie Nelson
This is what I’ve pieced together of the event through the photos and talking with Mitch. Sophia (in jeans) and Chelsea prepare the group from IDEO for the upcoming blind tasting, after which they will write down any memories the tastes evoked.
There was a lot of discussion about the size of the human olfactory bulb (not as developed as that of other mammals).
The tables are prepared for the blind tasting, with the blindfolds laid over the back of chairs and the butcher paper ready to record the dinner guests’ impressions and associations.
The mystery flavors are readied. (Possibly tahini?)
Finger limes from Australia (the “caviar” of citrus) and fermented black garlic from China were also among the four tastes included.
The blindfold technique is demonstrated, and the group from IDEO trustingly enters Chelsea’s world of culinary alchemy where taste can unearth buried memories.
After the tasting, the group was asked to channel their inner Proust and record whatever memories the tastes evoked.
If desired, these memories could then be shared with the group, and many did just that.
You know how we’ve been told since forever not to play with our food? Not this day. Whatever emotions were conjured up by the tastings were now to be reimagined through dabbling with the contents of the jewel-like bowls of fruits and vegetables.
Ingredients assembled and ready for the “memory plates.”
And brought to the tables.
I believe the colored pyramids included an emotional map to color.
And then the guests attempted to transcribe their emotional response to the tastings through the shapes and colors of the fruits and vegetables.
The first course was the memory plates!
And then the rest of the meal was served.
Stunning watermelon radishes have a surprisingly spicy kick (seed available from Renee’s Garden)
And after all that emotional archaeology, what could be more familiar and reassuring than soup?
And there you have Omiomi’s culinary rhapsody in blue.