“Utopia takes place nowhere; Love Difference Pastries - as for the previous project of the City of Art - is not a utopia since it has found a location. In the past, revolutions fermented in cafes, we want pastry shops to become meeting places”. The mandate of Love Difference, the artistic movement born within the City of Art founded by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, is to contribute to the building of an inter-Mediterranean policy.
On 26 and 27 February, the Museum of Contemporary Art of La Spezia hosted more than ten creators coming from the Mediterranean, who gathered for a project both political and sweet. These artists turned into chefs, artist chefs, to prepare together some delicious inter-Mediterranean sweets.
In the space of an afternoon, we savoured these culinary creations, listened to the ontological tales of their making, to the mechanism of their artistic process and especially to the copyright free recipes of all cakes and sweets, and it was then easy to appreciate the fact that art and food marry in the most natural manner. Speaking in sweet tongues leads you to understand, in its more intimate and personal dimension, the relationship between the artist and his creation.
Michelangelo Pistoletto refuses to consider the project of Loving Differences a utopia. For the success of the project, he therefore
suggested to all artists to follow up the Love Difference project and find new locations for these events. In the kitchen-lab, the first mandatory space for creation, Pistoletto was already ecstatic in front of this colourful round up of food and artists. It was “so moving to see all these colours and shapes…the sight was magnificent. The fact that you can taste the colours makes it even more exciting”…How could we disagree?
However, in the kitchen it’s easy to make the first mistake–Filippo Fabbrica, the manager of the Love Difference project, underlines this –in being too quick to ask questions linked to a static identity; the kitchen is often seen as an ancestral heritage, the expression of its roots and traditions. If Love Difference is aimed at fostering intercultural dialogue, he reminds us, we should first “enquire on the reality of traditional dishes”. By questioning traditions and allowing them to mingle, this first meeting of Love Difference Pastries actually proposes to look for an identity as open as possible.
Speaking of your dessert allows you to open a field of creation and to include different personal and artistic experiences that merge together. Rafram Chaddad from Jerusalem proposes a sugar bomb: it’s a mix of halva and crème brûlée. As an artist and president of Slow Food in Israel, cooking, to him, is a way to face the “two major issues of the region. The first one is tied to Palestine, the second to Jewish history.” By describing the recipe for his dessert he also questions two fundamental historical ties. “Israel is a new country, and as such it has no local cooking traditions. Our culture, largely due to the Zionist ideology, is more oriented on Indo-European culture than on Jewish history. Zionism furthermore, had not theorised the location of Israel and therefore never established ties with Palestine”. By mixing crème brûlée with halva, Rafram is trying to recall these important missing historical links. Visual artist Orei Toukan, on the contrary, shatters the presentation order by placing her
dessert in the middle of the room and stating fiercely and without irony that her “Knafeh is not a knafeh”. She verified it; her knafeh has nothing to do with the Palestinian tradition. A welter of red berries in a bed of Chantilly cream rests on top of the knafeh dough shaped like vermicelli. The timing couldn’t be better because she was just thinking of breaking with the issue of identity: “the Palestinian identity today is too often linked to a sense of nostalgia and nationalism. I was wishing to question the globalisation which also touches us and interpret it in my own way”. Enrica Borghi on the other hand has fallen back into the cooking tradition of Italy’s lower classes with her bread-cake, whose “simplicity and poorness makes it really democratic”, and can therefore represent the Love Difference movement, “a location that can give shelter to all the world’s tastes”, she adds.
Ingeborg Bodzioch came from Scotland with her young daughter Jenny who collaborated to the preparation of her “sweet ship”. The two blonde heads of mother and daughter personify the principle of culinary transmission. Taste allows to retrace the family links and to actually rebuild gastronomic family trees. A Norwegian established in Scotland, Ingeborg prepared a cream which “mixes Norwegian and Mediterranean traditions by reproducing the love encounter of my Spanish grandfather with my Norwegian grandmother”.
The family reference is also evoked by Marilena Joannides from Cyprus. She proposes a muffin “this type of cake is considered young and modern” made with a vanishing Mediterranean ingredient: the carob. Loving the difference also means remembering lost ingredients like carobs which she “was so happy to pick in her grandmother’s house at the East point of Cyprus”. As for Abdallah Daif and Sameh Al Halawani, pastries are linked to
happiness and to their childhood: “sugar reminds us of our childhood; children are very pure and open, especially when sweets are at stake. With our caramel we wanted to recreate this openness and joy”. To Sameh, the proposal of Love Difference was even the more appealing as it allowed him to recover a family tie he had refused for a long time: Sameh’s last name is El Halawani, which literally means the “candy-man”. His family owns a large pastry factory in Alexandria. As an artist, and in contrast to his family, he had always refused to participate to this culinary tradition… As an Al Halawani though, he could not escape his fate too long and has now created his own dessert.
The fusion of Mediterranean ingredients is almost mathematically translated by the two Greek artists Maria Nymfiadi and Lea Petrou. Each ingredient, whether coming from Cairo, Sarajevo or Tangiers was used in proportion according to its distance from Athens. Whereas Duccio Mele, the Italian chef, mixed his flavours under a Cuba (the cake’s shape is something between a Cupola and a Dome), Julie Upmeyer divided two pies – to be savoured together – each one created thanks to the contribution of nine persons coming from Turkey and its eight neighbouring countries. Umami, which reminds of the term “mammy” means both “delicious” in Japanese as well as the recognition of a fifth sense of taste, which is neither sweet, salty, sour nor bitter. This is a way for Hélène Abrand to “recognise the difference in taste (…) and the need of variety as a serene basis for identity”.
Maha Elmadi and Said Ait El Moumen take us to Marrakech by distributing dates and flavoured milk. For Moroccans, offering pastries rhymes with hospitality. The chocolate-coated dates were prepared by Marrakesh women and are called “love fruits”, a symbol of love and sharing. Following the same line of work operated by the foundation Dar Bellaj, these dates allow for “a more modern and artistic life, as well as to introduce exchange and art in the routine”. The Network nomadic Architecture group of Athens also has placed hospitality at the centre of its culinary reflections. They proposed their recipe in shapes inspired by the silhouettes of Greek gods. Their Pita is “a transforming cake” like the god Artemis, “the god of variations, differences and hospitality”. Finally, “Love to Love” mirrors back a harmony of
shapes. Secil Yaylali made this sweet with 7 layers “all different one from the other but of the same origin”. She works in Berlin and Istanbul and wanted to reproduce the shape of the Hittite hieroglyph signifying precisely “love to love”.
The project Love Difference Pastries has only started… On the following days the tasting was dedicated at coordinating future strategies which the members of the movement could carry out to further realise this delicious initiative.
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Translated by Nada Ghorayeb
Photographs by Charlotte Crocy