Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Jug of Wine, A Conger of the Rising Sun & Thou: Dali Does Food Porn

Need a few novel ideas for your Valentine Day's feast to impress your beloved's discriminating palate? Have a hedonist you'd like to wine and dine? I've got just the tome for you - a voluptuary's guide to culinary delight; replete with recipes and paintings from the man who turned lobsters into telephone receivers, pomegranates into mauling dreamtigers ravishing sleeping naked ladies, and bread into a paraphilia (explaining the use of bread in his paintings thusly: "Bread has always been one of the oldest subjects of fetishism and obsession in my work, the first and the one to which I have remained the most faithful. I painted the same subject 19 years ago. By making a very careful comparison of the two pictures, everyone can study all the history of painting right there, from the linear charm of primitivism to stereoscopic hyper-aestheticism." ).
Crack open the cover of Les Diners De Gala, Taschen's rerelease of Salvador Dali's 1973 cookbook, and the first thing you will read on the inside flap of the jacket, as you are greeted by his Basket of Bread (painted in 1945), is Dali's declaration: "At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. "

Fortunately for us, six decades after his 6th birthday, he decided to indulge his inner gastronomist. This reprint features 136 recipes over 12 chapters, all specially illustrated with erotic etchings and paintings by Dalí. Food and surrealism make for scintillating pillowtalk and the food porn in this book abounds. The opulent dinner parties thrown by Salvador Dalí and his wife and muse, Gala, were the stuff of legend. I watched a snippet of one on Youtube. The hostess is dressed as a unicorn, reclining on a red velvet bed. She's bottle-feeding a lion cub. The host is wearing ear flaps, life-size paper replicas of his head serve as ear muffs. Monkeys dangle from the ballroom's coffered ceilings. It is a benefit for refugee artists. Attended by Hollywood elite stars like Bob Hope, in 1941. Guests are served fish plated inside satin slippers,  an engraved cloche is lifted  by Bob Hope to reveal a silver platter swarming with live frogs, springing into action. Les Diners de Gala shares some of the delicacies that adorned the tables of these notorious gatherings. It is very much a magic carpet ride to the glamorous past that the Dalis inhabited. Not all the recipes are personal ones, some were contributed by the great chefs of the day. Taschen only just published its handsome facsimile edition this fall.  I myself received a copy of the new edition via Santa this past Christmas. Named for Dali's wife, also a legendary gourmande, it must be one of the most esoteric cookbooks ever created, certainly the most esoteric one I've ever seen - a bit like Escoffier on acid. Signed copies of the original recently fetched as much as $25,000.  Let me attempt to describe what you'll encounter within its covers:

An index is presented alongside an unctuously melting clock being sliced by a cheese knife. The index boasts twelve chapters divided by course with titles promising everything from autumnal cannibalism (eggs, seafood) to Lilliputian malaise (first courses) to sodomies (meats) to atavistic desoxyribonucleics (veggies) to a chapter entitled "I eat Gala"  devoted to aphrodisiacs,  full of all manner of enticements because all good cooks should be dab hands at searing sex as well as scallops.
Dali's Les Diners De Gala's Index
The index is followed by what the book asserts is Dalinian Gastro Aesthetics "From the Positive Materialism of the 'Physiology of taste of Brillat-Savarin' to the Spirito-Mystic-Monarchic, Catholic, Apostolic, Romanism of a Gastronomical Theology.
It is Epicureanism elevated to a religion, worshipping the God of the palate.  Whilst I am not entirely sure Epicurus would fully embrace his Dionysian excess, Dalí peppers his recipes with wily aphorisms that the great philosopher might espouse like “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge. Disgust is the ever present watchman of my table, sternly overseeing my meals, obliging me to choose my food with caution"


" I am exalted by all that is edible. Everything begins in the mouth before going elsewhere; with the nerves I hold visceral impulses to be the supreme indicator. My enlightenment is born and propagated through my guts. The jaws of my mind are in perpetual motion."
And who are we to doubt his wisdom of all things roasted, braised, boiled , masticated and digested? Food like aesthetics is imbued with morality and philosophy here: "I only like to eat what has a clear and intelligible form. If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty.“The opposite of shapeless spinach is armour. I love eating suits of arms, in fact, I love all shellfish ...I love eating all shellfish," Dalí declares, because "only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate." Woodcock flambéed in strong alcohol, and "served in its own excrements," as prepared in fine Parisian restaurants, "will always remain for me ... the most delicate symbol of true civilization." Take that Marcus Aurelius!
After the introduction to Dalinetics, a warning is issued,
“Les diners de Gala is uniquely devoted to the pleasures of taste … If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you.”—Salvador Dalí

His disclaimer doesn't exaggerate. This book is not for everybody - only the sexy people: equal opportunity omnivores who enjoy wrapping exoticism with decadence in layers of audacity, cream, and puff pastry. Vegans and ascetics need not apply. All of it composed with a spicy tongue en croute planted firmly in your cheek.

For example, in the introduction to the eggs and seafood section, forbiddingly titled "les cannibalismes de la-automne" Dali informs us, "The Crayfish of Paracelus has to be served along with the heads or torsos of small hot-blooded martyrs , as a gesture of homage to Gilles de Rais (Giles of Retz) whose most delightful ejaculations were brought about by gazing at the faces of his smooth-cheeked and innocent beheaded little ones, the virginal purity of whom could only have been compared to that of his former comrade-at-arms, the Maid of Orleans." Appetizing, no?

Or his intro to the first course which he cheekily titles "les supremes de malaise lilliputiens" where he warns, "Here is the supergelatinous, the flabby, the supersoft, the viscous, the dish desrving a persistent memory, and which is capable of getting hypocritically at your imperialistic stomach the way a real Chinese would do."

In the foreword to the meats chapter (les entre-plats sodomises), Dalí writes, "Take a walk among the fossil meats of the Diplodocus," referring to the long-necked dinosaur. "You will not be permitted to eat rocks, however, I will let you devour—on certain Sundays—some 'icebergs.'"

These recipes should inspire avid homecooks to rally round with tongs and pans in their hot frenzied little hands; although some dishes may prove challenging to the average cook's skills, and a well-stocked pantry is a must. This is old school Continental cuisine, whose disciples were raised in temples with Larousse Gastronomique as Holy Scripture. Many dishes were contributed and served by Michelin-starred French chefs from such stellar Paris restaurants of yesteryear as Lasserre, La Tour d’Argent, Maxim’s, and Le Train Bleu. They remain on select Parisian menus. Good taste, however voluptuous, has no expiration date. In making this rare book available to a wide audience, TASCHEN introduces a masterful artwork and a practical cookbook combining  to form a polymorphously sensual adventure for the daring modern producer of comestibles. But even if you have no interest in jellying a codfish or dishing up "A Bush Of Crayfish In Viking Herbs", it makes for a magnificent display on your living room coffeetable.
For Salvador Dalí, food was an endless buffet of symbols and double entendre, a visceral metaphor for pleasure and pain, sex, and politics. “Beauty will be edible,” he once said. “Or will not be at all.” From his famous Lobster Telephone (1936) to his Self-portrait with Grilled Bacon (1941) and Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops in Equilibrium upon Her Shoulder (1934), food featured prominently in much of Dalí’s art, even if not always in its most appetizing light.

As an artist, Dalí's dietary fetishes - lobsters, eggs, sea urchins- were incorporated into many of his Surrealist paintings. Dali was so obsessed with the symbolic value of the intrauterine that once he built a house and gaily festooned its roof with huge, white eggs as balustrades. Even the melting clock faces in his The Persistence of Memory (1931) were modeled on an oozing wheel of Camembert cheese. Bread, above all, stuffed the artist's imagination. Baguettes promenaded in his paintings along with Pan Catalan and “sodomized” Portuguese bread crumbs. In Paris, he befriended the famed Parisian boulanger Lionel Poilâne and commissioned a birdcage, a chandelier, eventually an entire set of bedroom furniture baked out of bread. “What man cannot do,” goes another Dalí koan, “bread can.”
Forever a foodie and science junkie, he even found inspiration in the humble cauliflower. Dalí once filled up a white Rolls Royce Phantom II with over 1000 lbs. of cauliflower to study it and drove it from Spain to Paris in December 1955. He later told an audience of 2,000, that he felt compelled to do it because “everything ends up in the cauliflower!" and how fascinated he was by their "logarithmic curve”. 

Flip through the pages of Les Diner de Gala and prepare to be mesmerized. Crayfish towers are topped with the torso of Joan of Arc, her amputated arms gushing blood, she trods upon the decapitated heads and bodies of her fellow martyrs. Chickens are trussed with barbed wire. A swan, its head studded with human teeth, is served on a pastry dish. Dalí is there, too, pictured at the swank Parisian restaurant Maxim's, wearing a cranberry crush of a velvet dinner jacket, holding a golden scepter, very much the Roman emperor surrounded by a Rabelaisian feast of his own devising. The twirl of his mustache defying every known law of gravity.

The recipes themselves, along with their illustrations, are designed to delight, amuse, confound and even repulse: recipes for lamb's brains, tequila and minced almonds mushed into avocado rye toast; tuna, caviar, and lamb shoulder slathered in béchamel, ox snouts sniffing and simmering in puffed pastry shells;  a prawn parfait with a crustacean draped atop a frozen custardy confection staring menacingly at the diner; illustrations include  a disembodied head with biscuits for hair and a fringe made of a jar of jam sits on a platter alongside a large cube of blue cheese - the sides of which show rabble-rousers in front of a mountain; a desert scene in which a telephone receiver is suspended on a twig over a melting plate holding two fried eggs and a razor blade; a man balancing a peanut (or is it a peach slice? ) on his enormous engorged member whilst tiptoeing atop the snout of an understandably irate crocodile.

Dalí's Surrealist cuisine is a bit like his Surrealist art: a baroque devotee's wet dream. In a recipe for Steamed and Boiled Larks, Dalí with great elan and more than a touch of whimsy advises the cook to let the pot of artichoke hearts, marrow-bones and songbirds "boil joyfully." But the outlandish presentations and self-parodying instructions conceal tremendous technique standing firm on a solid foundation of a culinary artistic prowess. That's evident in Dalí's more accessible recipe - Cytherean meatballs, tomato pie, beet salad (composed "according to Alexandre Dumas"), roast duckling, champagne sorbet, celery au gratin or even his straightforward lamb roast and many more truly classic fish, fowl, mollusk, meat and viand dishes—which are full of anachronistic charm but are fairly easy to pull off. These are all first and foremost comestibles - the exotic main ingredients and erotic illustrations, notwithstanding.

Frog Pasties

  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ bunch parsley sprigs 
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  •  36 small frogs legs 
  • 4 tbsp of flour 
  • 2 egg yolks 
  • 1 egg white 
  • 255 g cream cheese shortening 
  • 255 ml yogurt 
  • 1 container heavy cream 
  • 1 bunch chives, chopped 
  • 1 tbsp pepper (unground) 
  • salt 

 In the butter, sauté the finely chopped shallot and parsley for five minutes. Then add the frogs legs as well as the garlic. Add salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Prepare a sauce by whipping the heavy cream and mixing into the yogurt, chopped chives, the pepper and salt. Set aside and chill. 

 In a salad bowl, mix flour with egg yolks and cream cheese. Add the boned frogs legs. Since they are now cold, you just have to seize them with your fingers, and pull along the bones to get the flesh sliding down. Mix everything very well, add salt and pepper. 

 Beat up the white of an egg into a very firm snow before adding it to the mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon not turning too vigorously. Into the hot shortening, spoon out the mixture. As soon as the pasties get golden, take them out with a skimmer. Serve very hot. Serve at the same time the heavy cream that you have whipped up and mixed with the yogurt, the chopped chives, the pepper and the salt. This sauce must be served chilled.


Conger of the Rising Sun

  • 6 slices of conger eel
  • 6 slices of fatty bacon
  • 1 caul (casing which will be stuffed)
  • 12 small lettuce leaves
  • 12 oz raw soya beans (or canned soya)
  • 6 teaspoons of heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of curry powder Cayenne pepper

First of all, let us prepare the slices of conger eel by removing the skin and the central bone, one by one. Then place the pieces on a strip of bacon (cut to match the size of the piece of eel) and each of these on to a much larger piece of the caul. Add salt and pepper, then, on each piece of the eel, put a leaf of lettuce, on top of which you add 2 oz of soya beans (raw soya is the best, but canned soya will do). Sprinkle then with curry powder, salt, pepper. Pour a teaspoon of heavy cream over it, cover with a second leaf of lettuce and tuck in the caul on the four sides to wrap up all the ingredients of this recipe.

Using a very large skillet cook the fish slices on top of the range, simmering slowly, in a tablespoon of butter for 40 minutes. Be sure to go about it gently. Remove the slices and keep them warm; in the skillet, add the flour. Do not let it get brown; combine with the heavy cream and curry, taste for seasoning. Let it all boil for a little while and pour over the slices of the conger eel.


Top Round “Eros”
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 Toulouse sausage
  • 2 lbs top round
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 anchovies
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 6 tomatoes seeded and cut into pieces
  • 2 red peppers
  • 6 stalks celery
  • 3 quarts water

First buy the sausage then hand it over to your butcher so that he can cut a piece of top round that will wrap around it. Fry the sausage in the shortening for about 10 minutes. Brush the one side of the top round with mustard; put the anchovies on top, then the sausage, roll, tie up with string.
In a Dutch oven, brown the meat in shortening. When the meat turns golden, replace it with the onions, and when they are golden, add the tomatoes as well as the garlic and red peppers.
Cover after a while. The tomatoes will produce a juice and start boiling; put the meat back and salt carefully (because of the anchovies).
Simmer gently for 1 ½ hours.
Pare the celery stalks, cut off the green parts and tips of leaves, peel the root.
Cut it in half and wash thoroughly, especially between the leaves.
Bring salted water to a boil and cook the celery for 15 minutes. Cool under running water. After half an hour, place the celery around the top round.
It will cook in the meat juice for one hour.

See? Perfectly clear, concise instructions.

Dalí often spoke of wanting to consume the things he loved—from Antoni Gaudí's architecture to his wife's beautiful face. Perhaps this is why he held gastronomy in such high regard: it is are meant to be ingested, digested, nourishing to body and spirit. “It does not seem enough to devour things with our eyes,” he once wrote. “Our anxiety to join actively and effectively in their existence brings us to want to eat them.”
Sadly, I have not yet attempted to follow one of the recipes. I had originally intended to follow a few recipes to the letter as my due diligence for this column; ill-health has discouraged me from consuming anything much heartier than tom kha gai (Thai chicken coconut soup), so we shall have a second installment which will include a full Gala Dali menu cooked, photo-documented and enjoyed by yours truly... in the interim, here are a few more pages of the book, replete with table of contents and recipes for you to feast your eyes upon. Need a recipe for Peacock a la Imperiale Dressed and Surrounded By Its Court? Eel Pate as a starter?  Maybe add a simple composed salad a la Alexandre Dumas, not unlike a classic Nicoise Salad with its beets, potatoes and canned tuna before you round off the meal and serve a dessert of Toffee and Pinecones?  You're in luck! I created a little video for your viewing pleasure.

Click play to view the complete table of contents,
a few additional recipes, and Dali's accompanying graphics.
For better viewing choose fullscreen mode:

And just for fun...