Maria’s mother’s pierogi

by jeffarmstrong

mmm… Pierogi.

I love it.

There are really only a handful of things that define a culture. Art, poetry, prose, drama, architecture, language, war to name some. Only a few of these can create true bridges between people, history, families and even nations.

I love food photography and food generally. I was in the industry for many years and now that I am on the periphery, trying to become a food photographer, I can finally remind myself why it is so important to me.

To me a true sign of culture is when the ordinary becomes art (a sign of decline then might be when art becomes ordinary but I’ve not thought about this enough to write about it). A perfect example for me is the Japanese tea ceremony. It is truly beautiful. Full of perfect movement, subtlety, complexity and meaning. In the end, it’s just a cup of tea. But that ‘just tea’ is delivered to the realm of art and culture from the everyday. And the habits of subtlety from this spill over into everyday life.

For me, modern food in many restaurants and even homes, has taken the same cultural significance of art. My partner has stories of making pierogi at her mothers side for her father and three brothers. It’s significance is inherent by the ritual and memory of the making rather than the eating of the meal.

For modern chef’s in restaurant kitchens I think it has become a similar experience. Preparing the meal has gone from a necessary chore, through this stage of inherent cultural value, to a status of high art. One only needs to look at the work of Heston Blumenthal (one of my favorite cook books of all time), Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Martin Whishart, Tom Kitchen or the humble Stuart Muir whom I had the opportunity to work with at Harvey Nichols, to know that food has not been ‘just sustenance’ or even a mothers gift for a long time. Please forgive the Edinburgh bias. I talk about what I know about.

The ordinary becoming art can be pretentious (often in photography) but also, it can be truly beautiful (dance) or at the very least: engaging (the karma sutra for example, not that this is the least of the arts 🙂 ).

In the culinary experience, when food becomes art, it is not just an exquisite journey of taste and aroma often accompanied by that other wonderful art: vinification, it can also be a journey through time and space.

I love this scene at the end Ratatouille (one of my favorite quotes: ‘I don’t like food. I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow’) Where the hardened critic sits down to the simple and provincial dish and, in a mouthful, he is a child at his mother’s side, loved and happy. That is the art of food. Like music, it can give you a glimpse into the composers soul. Or maybe even your own.

Thanks and be good, Jeff