Artist Carsten Höller makes brutalism edible

In Stockholm, Carsten Höller plays with our perception and our senses through spectacular art installations. Starting next week, he will also offer ‘brutalist cuisine’ dishes in his restaurant. meeting.

Entering Carsten Höller’s in Stockholm, one is greeted by the chirping of 35 rare birds, giving the impression of being in a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Swirling on a work surface is a bowl full of tiny worms waiting to be fed to the precious birds.

Don’t worry, we’re not in Höller’s new restaurant, which will open on May 3. Since the kitchens weren’t ready yet, we meet the artist-restorer for lunch at his home, in the apartment he occupies in a historic building opposite St. John’s Church, in central Stockholm. When he moved there, this beautiful space full of art and books didn’t have a kitchen, but today it houses an impressive steel cooking unit. When we arrived, Chef Stefan Eriksson from Brutalisten (the name of the future restaurant) and his team were already preparing small plates for them to put on the grill.

Who is Carsten Holler?

©Pierre Björk
  • Born 1961 in Brussels.
  • Lives and works in Stockholm.
  • Raised in Belgium.
  • Studied agricultural sciences at the University of Kiel in Germany.
  • Dedicated his dissertation to the way insects communicate through odors.
  • Worked in science before turning to art in the early 90s.
  • Contributed to Documenta X (1997) with “A House for Pigs and People”, an installation featuring live pigs.
  • Exhibits “Upside-Down Mushroom Room” at the Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2000 and at Moca in Los Angeles in 2005 and the “Vitra Slide Tower” slides at the Vitra campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
  • Represented Sweden at the Venice Biennale in collaboration with Miriam Bäckström in 2005.
  • Engaging the public in the work “Revolving Hotel Room”, at the Guggenheim in New York, in 2008, by inviting them to book a night.

Inverted mushrooms on the ceiling of the Fondazione Prada in Milan (2000).

Ten strict rules

The name Brutalists also refers to the manifesto “brutalist cuisine” that the artist wrote one fine morning in 2018, which consists of ten strict lines. One of them states that “it is ideal to eat raw or quickly cooked food” and another that “decorative elements on the plate are prohibited”. However, this term brutalist is somewhat misleading, because even if the artist claims to find his inspiration in this direct and strict approach, his culinary experience has nothing to do with brutalist architecture.

For example, each dish can only contain one ingredient, because it is completely focused on purity. In other words, combining different ingredients is out of the question. For a chicken dish, Eriksson (ex-Chef of the Year in Sweden and founder of a Food Lab that allows chefs to collaborate with creative people from different backgrounds) will therefore only use chicken by cooking absolutely all animal parts: meat, feathers, eggs and bones. However, the eggs don’t have to come from the bird simmering in the pot — one of the many random exceptions Höller tolerates.

© Senay Berhe

The addition of salt and water is also allowed. Höller gets around these “violations” of the rule by using a progressive rating scale in his menu. “Semi-brutalism allows for minimal ingredients, but no spices,” he explains. “For example, pikeperch pasta or gooseberry risotto. Ultra-Orthodox brutalism, on the other hand, will choose a raw oyster, for example, because you don’t touch it and don’t add anything to it.”

So on the menu, the dishes will be arranged according to these rules to draw attention to each ingredient, rather than out of pure dogmatism.

Carsten Höller became known for his installations that take the viewer on an adventure, such as the slides in the Tate Modern in London (2006).
©Michele Giuseppe Onali

Willy Wonka

Carsten Höller has been called the Willy Wonka of contemporary art because his installations take the viewer on an adventure, such as the spiral slides installed in London’s Tate Modern in 2006 or the room decorated with giant inverted mushrooms in Milan’s Fondazione Prada in 2006. 2000.

The artist likes to provoke and juggle concepts in his work and soon also in his restaurant. The principle is this: we are all brutalist eaters from birth. The artist is also enthusiastic about all possible variations, whether it be brutalist drinks made from apples, mushrooms or fish (a kind of “cola meets colatura”, an Italian sauce made from anchovies).

Chef Stefan Eriksson and his team prepare small dishes that are grilled in minutes.
© Senay Berhe

This idea of ​​the cheeky kitchen stems largely from his way of cooking. As an avid gourmet, he only uses perfect products that he prepares very simply. The Swedish habit of spreading mayonnaise on food drives him crazy. It is also advisable not to approach him with the topic of toppings. Höller is very critical: “It annoys me that chefs combine too many things on the same plate, as if that were the essence of cooking, while it destroys the taste of the ingredients!” Isn’t the taste of the end result important to him? “Often the taste isn’t as good as it could have been if the chef had more control over himself,” he replies. “Even at Noma, re-elected Best Restaurant in the World in 2021, they can’t help but put flowers on their plates. And not just flowers! Sometimes it’s even music. Nowadays we see everything if we just want to listen to the silence .”

In Stockholm, chef Eriksson cooks according to the rules of brutalist cuisine.
© Senay Berhe

astonishing

The Brutalisten tasting menu consists of six preparations. We start with mussels from Bohuslän, a region in the west of Sweden. Sweet, slightly smoky, understated and without garlic or cream.

Follows a plate of broccoli in various preparations: fermented, steamed, grilled, sprinkled with roasted broccoli seeds. “I’m sure some people will really like broccoli,” he says, describing the interplay of sweet, spicy, and bitter flavors.

Added to this is a poached, grilled langoustine, so strong and concentrated in flavor that I crave a dollop of mayonnaise to counterbalance the flavour, but we know what Höller thinks; so no mayonnaise. The next preparation, steamed, smoked, fermented or raw chestnut mushrooms, conjures up a very tasty mushroom soup. Guinea fowl in grilled heart and breast, confit leg with legs, egg mousse, liver, meat and skin: this dish offers everything you would expect from well-cooked poultry.

Instead of a sleek brutalist space entirely in concrete, Höller opted for a warm place to welcome his 24 guests in the dining room.

But the next dish, Norwegian skrei, a type of high-quality cod, is the most amazing: some of the fish is grilled, some is poached and the accompanying sauce is prepared with the head. This dish has such an intensely salty taste that you will feel dizzy and emotional with every bite. Höller warns us: the space in which the restaurant will be located will also make us dizzy. Instead of a sleek brutalist concrete space, he chose a warm spot for 24 guests in the dining room and 10 in the bar. It will be decorated with bright pink neon signs by American artist Dan Flavin, artwork by Congolese painter Moke and a ceiling mural by artist Ana Benaroya, which Höller describes as “tall naked women drinking and smoking like firefighters”. How does this decor fit into the brutalist concept? “The ceiling fresco is about fun,” Höller replies. “Because Brutalisten should indeed be a place where people come to have fun.”

Brutalisten will open May 3, book via www.brutalisten.com

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