Salvador Dalí Was a Surrealist in the Kitchen, Too. Here’s How to Make One of His All-Time Craziest Dishes
The recipe is an artistic masterpiece worthy of the artist.
Surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) was a consummate showman, prone to the fantastical and over-the-top both inside and outside the art studio. It’s no surprise then that those theatrical proclivities shone through in his lavish 1974 cookbook, Les Dîners de Gala.
In the latest episode of PBS’s video series The Art Assignment, host and creator Sarah Urist Green takes viewers through the gorgeously illustrated volume, sharing details about the artist’s life and career while preparing one of the few dishes from the book that the home cook might realistically replicate. (The former curator of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Green launched The Art Assignment with her husband, The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, in 2014, inviting viewers to replicate artists’ creative practices in each episode.)
The cookbook, reissued by Taschen last year, is named after Dalí’s wife because, as Green tells us, the couple was “known for their opulent imaginative dinner parties, attending by many celebrity guests.” The elaborate French recipes are drawn from Paris’s fanciest restaurants, accompanied by vintage food photography as well as the artist’s drawings. (Taschen also rereleased Dalí: The Wines of Gala in 2017.)
“If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once,” Dalí warned in the intro. “It is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you.”
Not one to shy away, Green tried her hand at the “Bush of crayfish in Viking herbs,” a towering pyramid of tiny crustaceans flavored with parsley, tarragon, and dill, even though the cookbook admitted that “after giving us this recipe, the chef decided that he wanted to keep the exact ingredients a secret.”
To make her fish stock, therefore, Green subbed in a fumet recipe from Serious Eats, using it to boil a massive bushel of wriggling crayfish until they turned bright orange. She then layered them onto a tall foam topiary cone, spilling out into a bowl below and topped with a lemon and tomato cut in half with a zig-zag and a massive black truffle, all impaled on a skewer.
In Les Dîners de Gala, Dalí explained his love affair with crayfish, saying “I love all shellfish. Food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to a conquest of our palate.”
“Dalí was 68 when he published this book, and a larger than life figure, a master of self promotion, a courter of controversy, derided by his critics as having peaked in his youth and descended into commercialism and greed,” noted Green.
In her verdict, she admitted that the elaborate presentation of the crayfish mountain is entirely unnecessary, but so much fun. “The results,” said Green, “are triumphant, transcendent, and positively Dalínesque.”
See the episode below:
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