The Elegance of Gesture by J.F. Lynch
This is about food, but consider the following a necessary introduction.
I am an artist, a painter. My work is primarily about blurring the lines between written language and picture making. I make pictures that combine text and image. I also happen to agree with the notion that writing and drawing are secondary or “sign” languages; they require reference to a primary language to convey meaning.
Speech would be an obvious example of primary language. Speech exists in what we refer to as “real time.” As this is the case, it simultaneously responds to and affects the situation in which it exists.
In a primary language, the subconscious has just as large a role as—if not larger than—consciousness. But secondary languages are by nature more heavily anchored in the conscious mind (no matter how much you may believe in the divination of Automatic Writing, one still has to admit that mark-making is a conscious act). When one person is speaking to another, both are multitasking: counterbalancing another live being who is responding with tonal changes, gesticulations, facial expressions, other surrounding influences, and (last and least) word choices.
But when one leaves a note for someone else, it is the word choices that rule absolute. Admittedly, they are composed with the reader in mind and therefore have undertones and expectations, but the reader must always refer back to the words themselves for a second appeal.
It may be this role of the subconscious that imbues me with a fascination for experimenting with art and language. I mean, if the condition of these two is as described above, then they constitute the primary and possibly only exclusively conscious conveyance. They are as close in proximity as we can get to pinpointing and passing on an observation of the world.
They are Arts, as opposed to arts.
It is probably this same condition that has, for me, always quietly categorized other media—things like culinary arts and fashion—as art with a lowercase a.
Okay, that having been said, if you agree with that last bit, then you may find the following interesting. If not, fret not; I’m about to be proven wrong.
A couple weeks ago, my wife decided to treat us to cocktails and dessert at our local neighborhood fanciness. It’s the kind of place that has the names of its suppliers’ farms on the wall. All local of course.
The Gibson I had was delicious but, as all bootleg era recipes seem to be for me, a little too heavily poured to finish in an hour.
As we debated the virtues of the two dessert options, a chocolate torte or lemon ricotta fritters, we sat in the lower bar furnished with fashionable rustic paneled walls and taxidermied deer heads.
I disinterestedly agreed to the fritters and asked if my wife minded me ordering an eight-dollar beer so she may adopt my twelve-dollar Gibson. This request was presented as humbly as I could muster; bear in mind that I can only afford to return her generosity on the infrequent occasion that fate graces me with a collector of pretentious paintings.
Our server returned to take our order. His smiling face looked down from just below the low ceiling and apologetically informed us that they weren’t serving the lemon fritters. The person who makes them had quit.
We quickly acquiesced and requested the torte. But moments later, I began to consider the oddity of his explanation.
The guy who makes them quit? Was this a usual occurrence in a restaurant? An item falls off the menu when the best fritter-fryer quits? Did he take the lemons with him?
I was paving this offramp of questions when the beer and torte were served.
As I bit into a forkful, still inventing this fritter-stealing bandit, it slowly dawned on me that whatever I was tasting was not what I had expected.
It was not sweet or bitter, neither salty nor sour. It was creamy in texture but the flavor was aromatic, primarily affecting that nasal area above my throat. My brain—as it always does—quickly culled an old memory to attempt to reconcile the experience.
On more than one occasion as a child, I had attempted to make chocolate milk, accidentally using powdered bakers chocolate. It was always disgusting. It tasted like dust and milk. If it is possible for something to taste matte, that would be it.
Now, in this torte, I sensed that same dusty…matte…sensation. But beyond it was an environment of subtle flavors: coffee, clove, smoke, and spice. I could taste the roasting of the beans. I imagined the pods and the soil. For the first time, I was introduced to cocoa as it was separate from chocolate. Chocolate was a derivative of that.
My previous tangent of thought would be left unfinished.
I looked down at the source of this strange experience. A coating of bitter cherries hugged slice of cake.
That was it! That’s all it was. The chef—or whatever the word for a specifically dessert chef is—had realized that the bittersweetness of these cherries, if served as a separate layer rather than mixed in with the chocolate, would bring forth flavors in the cocoa that simply adding sugar would not.
The only way we ever understand something is through metaphor or association. That is the purpose of those secondary languages. They convey through recognition. But this of course requires a properly positioned recipient, one who has had the necessary prior experiences to receive it.
I was surprisingly floored.
Through his clever and elegant gesture, this chef whispered an understanding of flavor to me from a hidden location.
And, ignoring the man behind the curtain, I had to ask.
I grabbed our enormous server as he passed and shouted, “Where does the guy who makes the fritters work?”
J.F. Lynch is a visual artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from Pratt Institute in 2011 and is the Visual Arts Editor for apt. More information can be found at www.jflynch.com.