Monday, December 2, 2013

12 Bytes

CommunalTable’s 12 Bytes took place on Feb. 9, 2013 (though I’m just now writing about it.)

12 Bytes is a made-up name, a snippet of imagined computer lingo to name a salon supper that brought speakers and a chef together for an evenings exploration of computer inspired art served with a multi course meal of fantastic delicious b(y)tes. 

I'm an ashamed computer dork, a technophobe who wants to find a way to love my computer. And I want to get closer to molecular gastronomy too. In my dreamy minds eye spherified olives and computer savvyness merge into a cyborg utopia of unintimidating easy-use technology.  Perhaps my motivation for putting the evening together was to begin exploring these technologies in the company of friends.  Despite near blizzard conditions a full house of guests crowded into Vince-the-fishmongers Brooklyn loft and mingled over cocktails before sitting down at snug tables to eat and watch and listen.   

My friend Alice Lee, a food scientist research chef and molecular hobbiest was the evening’s chef. Alice and I collaborated on the menu using “digital terminology” as inspiration for each course, then she applied bits of “molecular technology” and other unusual cooking techniques and ingredients to execute the meal-  sous vide, blow torches, squid ink... 

Alice painting squid ink onto plates

Raw data.
Beausoleil Oyster on the half shell
Scallop. Grapefruit, basil, lime zest
Salmon. Soy, nori, yuzu avocado

Mixed pixels.
Pearl barley bibimbap
Miso soup
Radish kimchi

Binary code.  (Black & White.)
Squid fettuccini with black aioli
Potato vermicelli cake with black sesame miso

Red raspberry sorbet
Blue panna cotta with blueberry coulis
Green tea sable

The Presenters:
Artist Scott Draves has been floating in the back of my brain since I heard him speak a couple of years ago. He's the inventor of electric sheep, an ever-changing algorithmically created image-progression cum screen saver I stare into more than I care to admit. Encountering Scott’s work opened my eyes to computer’s abstract visual possibilities, but what’s most fascinating is the open-source element in his creation. Once programming was in place its been viewer participation that has abetted the screens visual evolution. Used to be ideas evolved slowly like the path of a recipe via migration and generations as new ingredients and life-styles replace old ones. The change was hard to pinpoint. Now Internet speed magnifies change and Scott’s artwork is about watching it occur.

Jessie Diener-Bennett provided connection to sound. My local barista composer friend, Jessie writes compositions coaxed from noise, drawn from a musicology expanded by electronics and computer technology. In his presentation he showed notations and played tones made possible by the arrangement and re-arrangement of data code. He demonstrated how the very possibility of sound has grown and changed with expanded technology (much the way molecular gastronomy presents new possibilities of taste coaxed from standard ingredients.) As musically challenged as I am computer illiterate I can hardly explain more than this broad outline of Jessie’s material. Mostly I was moved watching as many in the audience nodded in recognition at the digital half tones he played, and humbled by this reminder that human knowledge is both vast and obscure.

Mihir Desai is a molecular-chef computer-whiz who turns red in the face denying foods connection to art, but who I see as an artist. His plates are like late Kandinsky. Interactive offerings of sous-vided protein painted with gels and smoke. I brought him to the program (despite his misgivings) to be the connection between food an art. Standing before a power-point he shared chaos histiography and data schematics, then made a show-n-tell of visualizations he’s made comparing the canons of different famous chefs. He’s painstakingly downloaded each chef’s recipes into a computer, which analyzed the frequency of ingredient use to create, for lack of a more accurately descriptive term-- word clouds. Each visually arresting configuration reflects stylistic differences; classic French vs. Spanish Modernist or New Nordic and the like. Seeing the “clouds” broadens the horizon, allowing a glimpse into the confluence of ingredients, (which encapsulates seasonality and geography) with technique (history and technology).  

The evening came together on many levels, perhaps more successfully than other CommunalTable events. Alice’s elegant b(y)tes immersed the participants in an aesthetic of flavors and texture that built on and expanded our notion of a meal. In a similar way the speakers built on each others topics while illustrating how computer technology has expanded our notions of image, information and sound.

Originally the conception for CommunalTable dinners was to pick a theme, and to have the food both remark on that theme and inspire the guests to share related stories. The food would help create the story circle, acting on some level as a storyteller itself. But more often then not the guests push back, too shy or too sated to fulfill their part, and I end up frustrated and confused as to how to draw stories from the participants, and maybe more importantly, how to foster my guests to develop an ear to hear the stories food tells. With 12 Bytes the structure of the event shifted. The guests were audience, there for entertainment rather than as participants charged with contributing to the evening’s success. Perhaps taking people off the hook helped create an easier, more enjoyable evening that allowed the audience to immerse themselves and listen to the ideas presented in words and food.

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