Edible Iconography: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

In 1888, Van Gogh wrote “The imagination is certainly a faculty which we must develop, one which alone can lead up to the creation of a more exalting and consoling nature than the single brief glance at reality”, a quote that perfectly encapsulates the importance of chef Willem Pieter van Dreumel’s new venture at restaurant Het Bosch. The chefs work to create an edible adaptation of Van Gogh’s sunflowers: finding meaning in the painting, and figuring out how to translate that meaning into a dish.

The process focused heavily on how the meaning of the painting could be transposed into a dish; with the chefs discussing what it means to look at the work and what emotions it conjures. The inspiration crystallized into a concept that there was fullness in the painting, one that made the viewer feel whole, satiated. This feelings rose out of the interplay of yellows in the painting, reminiscent of sunshine and the countryside of Southern France.

In the final dish, the chefs began by choosing lobster as a main component. This local food is a seasonal tradition, reminiscent for many of summer and sunshine. This light choice, then paired with star anise and fennel, becomes multi-faceted. Just as the sunflowers are depicted in stages of growth and decay, the palette is taken on a journey through light, happy tastes to more dense, darker ones. The fennel and orange salad combines citrus and licorice flavors in a manner reminiscent of something characteristically Van Gogh: the density of darkness goes head-to-head with the joy of light.

Elsewhere on the plate, fresh herbs directly call back to the focus on nature in the painting while embracing seasonal ingredients. Yarrow flower, burnet, pea shoots, and red sorrel are arranged throughout the dish like a bouquet: a testimony to Arles and Van Gogh’s country life in France. These tastes conjure notes of cucumber and citrus that complements the orange fennel salad. Holding the elements together as well as constructing the visual adaptation of the painting is a rouille and star anise powder. Rouille is a sauce native to Provence, a geographical nod carried over to the wine pairing: a 2011 Sieur d’Arques chardonnay from Limoux. This wine is a classic combination with lobster that compliments the crispness of the dish, while calling to mind sunshine and warmer months.

In a letter to his sister Wilhemina, Van Gogh writes, “by intensifying all the colors one arrives once again at quietude and harmony”, a notion conveyed in this dish. All the light and color from the painting translates into the array of bright flavors, resulting in a feeling of fullness and calm. The dish, similarly to the painting, satiates. It is a modern, edible adaptation of an iconic work, showing the enduring relevance and significance of Van Gogh’s paintings



By Katrina Dew Harple Online PR Assistant 01-10-2015