Eating Art in Buenos Aires, Argentina
We are going back in time, a decade into the past. I had planned a few days in Buenos Aires en-route to New Zealand after overseeing a meeting in Sao Paulo.
My time in Sao Paulo deserves a post to itself (anyone who has flown on the time machine that is Aerolíneas Argentinas or tried to organise an event in Brazil will sympathize), but in Buenos Aires, I was resolved to reward myself with a visit to Faena Hotel + Universe. I had seen pictures, and a client had raved about it over the year. Who doesn’t want to visit a Universe? One designed by Philippe Starck, nonetheless?
Considering that one night at the Hotel would drain my youthful bank account of its meager sustenance, I calculated that all I could afford was a meal at one of the restaurants and a single drink at the bar. I might have to curb my spending for the next month, but now that I was in Buenos Aires I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.
Entering the Faena is like falling into Alice’s rabbit hole. I could have sat at The Library Lounge all night and watched the beautiful people of Buenos Aires, but I have never held my alcohol well, less so in my twenties than today, and by the end of my first drink, I was feeling relatively light headed. In anticipation of dinner, I had drunk on an empty stomach (what an amateur), and no amount of bar snacks was going to save me at that stage. By the time I made my way down the Hotel’s red corridor to Bistro Sur, I was floating.
You could say that my alcohol-induced state of mind heightened the surreal events that unfolded after, but the surroundings definitely contributed to the feelings of “other worldliness.” Bistro Sur is decorated in white with touches of red, and there I was, sitting alone at a round table in the middle of the room surrounded by the heads of white unicorns. To prove this point, I present Exhibit A.
The meal that followed was my introduction to avant-garde cuisine and one of the most memorable times in my life. It showed me that food could create so many different sensory and mental experiences that had nothing to do with what I had long associated with the act of eating. The sights, sounds, tastes, memories, textures, and scents of food that I had recorded and stored in the recesses of my mind was jolted out of place. “Soup” looked and felt like a Post-It Note, and though the brain held its reservations, once in the mouth, it affirmed that this piece of paper really was tomato soup!
It is not until my meal at Bistro Sur that I began to question how much of what we taste begins in the eyes. Biologically we are programmed to stay away from food that might be poisonous or taste bad, and food that is well plated psychologically enhances its taste. Subconsciously we file away images of food with sensory descriptions of how we expect it to taste. But what if we played with our presumptions to create moments of surprise and delight? How much fun could we have challenging our food biases?
Back to Bistro Sur. I can scarcely recall what was on the menu without the existence of Instagram to jolt the memory, but I do remember dessert. It was called “The Starry Night” after the famous painting by Vincent van Gogh, and it was literally “The Starry Night” recreated on a plate (I think, in cake or cookie crumbs). Served with it on a side plate was a delicate replica of the actual painting digitally printed on a small square of rice paper so that I could compare the similarities.
That night, as I ate van Gogh’s stars, I could see for the first time how beautiful food could be – not just visually but as an experience. For a long time after, I kept the rice paper picture of “The Starry Night” in my wallet until it disintegrated. Why? I don’t remember exactly, but I’d like to think it’s because it reminded me that magic is still possible.