When a restaurant is a work of art

STOCKHOLM – “Can anyone silence Dan Flavin?” It’s not a query one generally hears in a restaurant, but on the first preview night on Brutalisten, artist Carsten Höller pulled wires out of electrical outlets at random while still training a few cracks at his restaurant, including toning down the glaring fluorescent tubes. of the minimalist masterpiece on the dining room wall.

Most of the cracks had already been removed, with a miraculous installation the same day of Mr Höller’s bespoke furniture just before the guests arrived, and the staff, equipped in his specially designed gray boiler suits, were unusually happy.

In the past week, the pocket-sized Brutalisten (“brutalisten” in Swedish) with only 28 seats has been packed to the rafters with Mr. Höller’s high-Polish friends and supporters from Stockholm and far beyond: Miuccia Prada; Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert; Mikael Schiller, an owner of Acne Studios; Max Schiller, the founder of the footwear brand Eytys; art patron Maja Hoffmann; musician Baba Stiltz; director Jonas Akerlund; photographer Mikael Jansson; and a host of fellow artists.

They came to eat art in the form of brutalistic cooking, a kitchen of mr. Höller’s own invention, which aimed to sharpen our sense of taste with “mono-ingredient” dishes, served simply or only adorned with the elements of an element, like a raw oyster he would never dare to spoil with lemon or white asparagus steamed in asparagus liquids and served with a fermented asparagus sauce.

“This place will be a catalyst for interesting people, and we desperately needed that in Stockholm,” said Battaglia Engelbert, who chatted with Mrs Prada before dinner. “Only Carsten could create this kind of magic.” Ms. Battaglia Engelbert was visibly pregnant and was unstoppably glamorous in Mylar stilettos and large rhinestone necklaces from Swarovski, where she is the creative director.

“Carsten and I share an interest in art that engages people,” Ms. Prada said, raising her voice over the noise of devotees feverishly discussing the upcoming food-as-art. “Art should make reality more interesting and examine life to make it more interesting. That’s what Carsten’s art does.”

A former entomologist who spent years in laboratories experimenting with insects before moving on to art and pushing forward with his often participating creations, Mr. Höller exposes his audience to works that can feel like experiments on humans, with his heart-stopping corkscrew glass. , hallucinatory light frequencies and inverted goggles that turn a viewer’s perspective of the world – “art that is both bodily and cerebral,” whispered one of the Brutalist’s guests.

An intellectual with an unusually ingenious approach to social life, he collaborated with the Prada Foundation on Double Club, a temporary restaurant in London and at Art Basel Miami Beach with a Western Congolese mash-up that was the forerunner of the Brutalist.

It was, said Mr. Höller, “probably one of the best things I’ve ever done, even though most people thought it was just a place to hang out and did not realize it was a work of art.”

The restaurant Brutalisten occupies a copper roof pink granite cube built in 1926 to house a public staircase – a lonely little pavilion surrounded by the densely packed towers in central Stockholm. The interior was transformed by Mr. Höller, its archways now surrounded by a polychrome rainbow of fluorescent lamps, the walls lined with banquets in coarse ox-blood leather and stools and oak tables made by the bustling Mexico City studio La Metropolitana. Höller’s characteristic fly agarics were rebuilt as small table lamps.

A gimlet-eyed study of the restaurant reveals a five-degree slope in the spiral staircase’s middle bar, table tops, bar and the off-kilter wooden slats that line the interior. “I hope it makes you a little dizzy,” Mr Höller said.

Mission accomplished, the guests agreed – especially as you walk up the stairs toward a mural in the ceiling by American artist Ana Benaroya, a Technicolor drink party competing with minimalist works by Mr. Flavin and Carl Andre on the walls.

“We needed some classic minimalists in terms of the recipes,” Mr. Höller said. “And then we needed the opposite of Ana’s effervescent Rubens style to represent the pleasure of eating.”

Höller, a layman of brutalist architecture, designed his own beach house in Ghana in its box-shaped concrete language. “Brutalist architecture is essentialist, and the kitchen is essentialist, reduced to a single ingredient,” he said.

Brutalist cuisine also rejects embellishment (“Decoration on the plate is avoided,” declares the menu’s 13-point manifesto), while embracing utility (the use of “overlooked, hard-to-get or rare or generally discarded ingredients is characteristic” of the brutalist kitchen) and explores the full potential of materials (“If you have to eat chicken, why not eat chicken brain?” he asks).

Only water and salt are allowed, and truly “orthodox” brutalism – for example, the scallops served raw or grilled in their own fund – would refrain from even them.

“The manifesto,” said Stefan Eriksson, head chef at Brutalisten, “controls you, so you have to go in new directions. You are constantly discovering new aspects of ingredients – those are the benefits of the limitations.”

The brutalist uses high-quality ingredients in season, as many other restaurants do, Mr Höller pointed out, while drinking bubbly at the brushed tin bar. “But if you have your perfect ingredient, then why add more ingredients to it? You found the perfect love of your life. Do you really need one more, or two or three?”

So what is it like to eat according to this artist’s vision? The brutalistic dishes are “like being a kid and returning to your first taste of taste,” said Emilia de Poret, a fashion entrepreneur and former pop star as she tasted the mushroom Carsten of mushrooms cooked in four different ways. The metaphors continued across the banquets.

“It’s like walking into a building you think you know well and suddenly realizing that there are doors you can open to room after room that you never suspected were there,” said Giulio Bertelli, Mrs. Prada’s son, while his roommates toasted with natural wines and a pure cloudberry juice, one of many brutalist drinks created by Mr. Höller’s girlfriend, Kajsa Leander, an entrepreneur and pomologist.

When dessert arrived – a grilled apple served with apple sorbet on smoked apple puree – artist Precious Okoyomon took a bite and with his eyes closed he leaned back for a longer taste-meditating minute, impenetrable to the noisy table teasing. “My mood is excessive pleasure,” Mx. Okoyomon said, “but Carsten’s stripping down to the core of the thing, which is poetic, like being in a quiet space.”

Even skeptics were converted. “Minimalism and avant-garde ideas are OK in art and fashion,” Mr Schiller said. “But with food, it has to last just to be tasty. I was surprised though – the simplicity here made the flavors a revelation. “

Höller makes art, he said, as “a suggestion to look at things differently.” With Brutalisten, he welcomes friends and guests to reconsider food: Why do we not use a whole ingredient? Why do we not go deeper into a single taste? Why is kitchen so rarely an artist medium?

“For me, art is a social experiment,” he said. A restaurant is “actually a terrible business in terms of time, money and health, but I could not help myself,” he added, scrutinizing the dining room as it slowly recovered. »The role of an artist is to be an experimenter. As a scientist, but without the rational considerations. ”

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