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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Kevin Lasko, the executive chef at Park Avenue Winter, the New York restaurant that changes its name, menu and decor with the season, is offering customers a new multi-sensory culinary experience.
In a year-long series of collaborations with artists, Lasko is bringing edible art to his customers. The first, with Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, kicked off in January with "Volcano Flambe."
To enjoy the experience diners don a headset and listen to a recording of Abramovic, who details the mental and sensory aspects of the dessert.
Each season Lasko, along with artists including Janine Antoni, Paul Ramirez Jonas and Michael Rakowitz, will introduce a new dish or experience.
Lasko spoke to Reuters about the inspiration for the project and the increasingly fuzzy boundaries separating food and art.
Q: What was the impetus for this project?
A: "We had been working with Creative Time Consulting, which specializes in public-space art, to launch something with artists. Since we're a seasonal restaurant, we thought of doing an art installation for each season, and it just went from there."
Q: What was it like working with Marina, who had just finished an exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), where she sat facing patrons, staring in silence.
A: "Well, we started with complete artistic freedom, and didn't say 'no' to anything. She wanted to delve into textures, and do a dessert. Her idea was an aphrodisiac, and then she wanted it to explode. But that's difficult in a fine dining establishment where people dress for dinner.
"Then she thought of a potion, and after four or five meetings, working with chocolate, bananas, almonds and things, we came up with our dessert. It's dark chocolate ice cream, with almond sponge cake and banana mousse covered in Swiss meringue. We surround it with dark chocolate crumbs and top it with spun sugar, then set it on fire with dark rum. It really wasn't that 'out there,' for what she could have wanted to do."
Q: What has the response been?
A: "People have been coming just for this, and the whole table will order it .... But there are some people who are made uncomfortable by it. They feel self-conscious, sitting in a public dining room with headphones on and their eyes closed. It's a bit of a private experience in a very public place. But like any art, it's also about what you bring to it. One person cried. Another said it sounded like a phone sex voice and was quite excited about it."
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the project?
A: "On a personal level, it's about collaboration. And it's also really cool just to get a different perspective on approaches to food, on how you view it. Cooking well is making your craft, and I'd rather make food that no one's seen before, or done. That's the art part of it. And on the flip side, for the artists it's an exciting opportunity and a new way for people to access their art."
Q: So would you do it again next year?
A: "I'd love to do this all the time! It's such a creative, interesting experience."
Adaptation of Volcano Flambe for home cooks
1 pint dark chocolate ice cream
1 pound cake
1 cup dark chocolate crumbs
2 cups sugar
1 cup egg whites
4 ripe bananas
3 tablespoons dark rum mixed with 1 tablespoon 151 proof rum
Dark Chocolate Crumbs
Crush chocolate wafer cookies in food processor or with rolling pin to render 1 cup of crumbs.
Mix 2 cups sugar with 1 cup egg whites over a double boiler on simmer until sugar dissolves. Beat in mixer until stiff peaks form.
Roast bananas in the skin on a cookie sheet in a 350F oven until soft, approximately 15 minutes. Remove skins and puree bananas, pass through a fine strainer and chill.
Cut pound cake into four 3 inch by 3 inch squares, each 1/2-inch thick. Spread 1/4 inch banana puree over each square, and top with 1 scoop of ice cream.
Freeze for at least 30 minutes. One at a time, pipe meringue on top of ice cream to form pyramid shape and return to freezer.
Place each pyramid on a plate, surround each base with 1/4 cup dark chocolate crumbs. Lightly brown the pyramid with a kitchen torch. Top each with 1 tbs rum mixture and carefully ignite to flame.