Van Gogh’s first ‘Sunflowers’ were intended as a gift, of sorts, meant to hang in Gaugin’s room upon a visit to Arles. The sunflowers were emblematic of the region, but also a dense emotional place for the artist. They are at the same time vibrant and still: blossoming yet contained. The simple composition of the painting lends itself to an intense focus; the eye is drawn to the detail and color of the flowers and made aware of the differences between them. Sunflowers are depicted in various stages of bloom and decay, their brightness composed of a wide variety of enticing yellows.
The post-impressionist school of painting is characterized by abstraction: reworking light and color from nature on the canvas. At contemporary lifestyle restaurant Het Bosch in Amsterdam, chefs take inspiration from the work of one of the world’s most famous post-impressionist painters, Van Gogh himself, to depict his work in a new, equally accessible medium: food. Restaurateur Ferry van Houten uses cutting edge culinary techniques to create beautiful French gastronomic dishes in collaboration with head chef Willem-Pieters and sous-chef Marcel Heinzberger.
The chefs begin with the painting, assessing not only its color and composition but, more importantly, the feeling and essence of the work from a viewer’s perspective. They tease out the dialogue between composition replication and taste emulation, asking questions like ‘what is the flavor of a sunflower?’
Choosing to focus on the intense quality of light, the dish begins to form itself with the concept that happiness and light generate fullness. For the painting, this fullness is emotional. For the dish, this fullness is the feeling of being joyously satiated both visually and with regards to taste.
The process is active, utilizing fresh and seasonal ingredients such as courgette flowers, lobster, and wildflowers to construct an edible version of the sunflowers. All the details, down to cutlery and plates are considered: settling on a robust ridged plate reminiscent of Van Gogh’s characteristic wide, crosshatched brushstrokes.
For the chefs at work, the process is in some ways as important as the product for it demonstrates a true appreciation and tribute to Van Gogh’s work. The dish is composed of the freshest foods, taken from nature and reworked into something new, where passion fruit becomes a sauce to ‘paint’ the plate and avocado mayonnaise becomes sunflower stems.
The world of the painting is revived on the plate, a testament to both creativity and gastronomic ingenuity. As the chefs experiment with the painting, the dish evolves from re-creation, standing as both homage and a characteristic Het Bosch original. Check back for details on the final dish, wine pairings, and when to get taste it for yourself!