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The Cuisine of the Sun

Author John Olsen
Publisher Tim Olsen Gallery
Published in 2010

Price A$ 10
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Culinaria – The Cuisine of the Sun

It was an epiphany – yes, that’s what it was, it happened at that remarkable market off the La Ramblas in Barcelona – “The Boqueria”

I had travelled from Paris to Barcelona on a Lambretta – I had, a few months before, arrived from Australia, young, wet behind the ears, but all antennas open to break the limitations of the tyranny of distance.

There, in this market were things that I had never seen, a surrealist scene of saffron-coloured chickens and ducks – heads n’ all suspended from the ceiling, hams, salamis – Catalan pimento sausages, Butifarra, Sobrasada, black and white studded garlic blood sausages – then vegetables of vivid green and red, sad purple-peppers, zucchinis, onions and eggplants. Oz gum trees and desert landscapes disappeared.

The Road to Damascus was just off the Ramblas.

I had never, in a cloistered childhood, ever cooked, but I had with me from London– I don’t know why, a copy of Elizabeth David’s ‘Mediterranean’ cooking. When I finally settled in Deia de Mallorca, I came to realise that all these splendid dishes derived from a peasant necessity – vegetables and fruits that naturally grew there.
Spain was still recovering from a horrific civil war; consequently people were very poor, meat was very expensive – there was only one sheep killed a week. The painting in this exhibition ‘The Butcher’s Cart, Deia de Mallorca’ is an enactment of how the meat was displayed in large chunks no matter which part it came from. The resulting scene had a primitive, animalistic vitality about it. I’m reminded that all art is memory of old-age things, dark things.

Australians generally are indifferent to stark pictures. In contrast, in Spain, it is exactly opposite, the poet, Garcia Lorca wrote of black, “Black is not as black as all that.” Darkness is a symbol of the souls reverberation – vide Goya and Tapies.

I became fascinated how elements melded together, onions, tomatoes - splashes of golden olive oil – parsley, wine, small pieces of chicken, chorizo become a family – it was alchemy. These sensations, visions have never left me. The peasant necessity – the Paella (named after the dish it is cooked in) from Valencia, which is a rice-growing area.

Near the sea has prawns, mussels, magnificent coloured vegetables – again chickens – and saffron, put together, overlaid with strips of red peppers becomes not only a shared-by-all dish, but is the colour of Spanish flag. All these dishes, Salade Nicoise, Bouillabaisse, Ratatouille, all come from an earth base. Ask most chefs who are five-star – they will nearly always say that their cuisine comes from their mother of grandmother. As you can see, I’m not interested in fashion-foods, modular or whatever.

My interest is the joining of the song of the earth.

- John Olsen, Feb 10

Food Editor: Andy Harris
Photography: Sowerby Smith
Catalogue Concept: Rick Foster
Catalogue Design: Go Design
Printing co-ordination: Jens Hausch
Catalogue co-ordination: Katrina Arent
With special thanks to Rick Stein, Katharine Olsen, Dominique Ogilvie, Elizabeth King, Sas Burns, Pino Tomini- Foresti, Michael van Stom and Michael Boland.

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