photo taken in 2001 at Tasting Australia

I spent a little over two years recently working for a government agency. Most specifically, I was working within the arm of the government responsible for looking after the arts. While there, one of the things I campaigned for quite aggressively (internally of course) was recognition of the culinary arts as a proper artform. And not simply as a trade. As you can imagine, very few of my colleagues sympathized with my cause. Mostly, I think, because few understood what I was going on about.

A buddy of mine, who is one of Singapore’s most talented contemporary artists, just emailed me a bit of news that has made my day (maybe even my month). Documenta is arguably the most important regular contemporary art exhibition in Europe. It takes place once every five years in the German town of Kassel. Each edition is helmed by a different artistic director, who builds his or her own curatorial team. Documenta 12, scheduled to take place 16 June 2007 – 23 September 2007, is being led by Roger Buergel.

A few months ago, Buergel announced some of the artists that he will be bringing to Kassel for this most significant and important of art exhibitions. One of those, surprisingly, was celebrity chef Ferran Adria, of El Bulli! Buergel acknowledged Adria as “the most famous chef in the world” but wouldn’t reveal the details of how Adria will be participating in the art show.

When my friend emailed me this astounding news, I quickly googled both “Documenta” and “Ferran Adria” and was surprised by how little coverage has been given to what I believe is a rather important event for the culinary world. In fact, all the reports that I found came from fine arts media. Am I just blind or has the world’s mainstream food press possibly missed out on one of the most exciting stories of recent times? For perhaps the first time, a chef has been elevated to the status that he deserves. He’s being considered a true artist and being exhibited alongside other creative geniuses from other disciplines.

Perhaps after Documenta 12, more and more non-foodies will start to recognize the culinary arts for what it is, a serious artform. One that requires just as much creativity, training and innovation as other artforms like film-making, painting, or architecture.

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About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!



27 September 2006


Cooking is a craft, not an art.

That a thoughtfuly designed dish takes into consideration colours and textures as much as flavours is neither here nor there.

As chefs we want people to enjoy our food with every one of their senses. We strive to produce food which is as beautiful to behold as it is delicious to savour and when we cook we try and craft dishes which appeal to the eye as much as the palate.

Many wonderful aromas are prepared in a kitchen, but this does not make us perfumers.

The fact that we create and plate beautiful foods does not make us artists.

We’re artisans. That’s all there is to it really.

[regarding comments by anonymous]
It all depends on how you read it.
I am also excited that ferran is going to be at dokumenta. From an aesthetic and conceptual angle, what el bulli has done has been outstanding. Food Arts or culinary art has a long tradition stretching back to the Romans and Greeks. I worked in the SupperClub(before it become a franchise – i.e. boring) in Amsterdam which to use a computer graphics metaphor plotted a timeline of food over one of theatrical moments. We had a wardrobe of costumes to wear and audio-visual equipment for sound and light effects. Some nights were planned and some free to what the staff felt was right. That restaurant revolutionized restaurant culture (exploring the boundaries of what can happen in a restaurant) where el bulli revolutionized food (exploring the boundaries of what food can be) and its serving.

I’m fascinated what Ferran will do? Will his food appear within an artistic concept or be another spectacular demonstration of new materials like sitting down to watch a popular science lecture?

Cocinar, comer, etc: I agree and disagree. I think cooking is a craft. But that craft can be elevated to an art. The same applies to other disciplines. Take glass-making. There are some who just make everyday drinking glasses. Then there are others who make gorgeous, unique and totally inventive works that aesthetically can wow people. The same can be said for food. Anyway, that’s just my opinion. I’m not saying I;m right.

Brenda: Boy would I love to plan a trip next June and cover Venice (biennale), Basel (art fair) and Kassel all in a row.

James: Thanks for the comments. I really hope Ferran does something extraordinary. I hope his participation isn’t just presenting his past creations but some new exploration of food, science, aesthetics, culture, etc.

I think you are all missing the point here. Cooking, food, cuisine whatever you call it is way more important that “art”. If you look at it from the narrow point of view ie. through chefs creating new dishes etc then yes maybe it can be argued it is art. Or that chefs are artists.

Get off your high horse. Cooking has never been about how great the cook is (at least I’ve never cared about it and I suspect 99% of the population); its about the interaction between people, the nourishment we get etc.. so many things that “ART” could never ever encapsulate.

anonymous….i hear what you are saying…sure food is about people interacting…we all die if we don’t eat…it’s something primal and it is a craft…and, it can be viewed as an art form…so agreeing with you and adding another perspective.

Restaurants decide how they want this to happen. They can offer a very homely precious experience or veer off into the garishness of karaoke or Disney. You decide where you want to lay down your money. Home cooking on the other hand usually dispenses of anyone else’s influence except you and your friends. It is comes closest to us post-monkey humans sitting round the campfire with an animal grilling in its embers to satiate our hunger and
provide the context for communion with each other.

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