A meat free interpretation of Carsten Höller's
striping down of our meals to single ingredients.
Text : Damla Bozoglu
When artist Carsten Höller wrote a manifesto, The Brutalist Kitchen, his focus was mostly on simplifying a daily routine we all have in common. His approach was artistic, of course, with a thought process behind. He constituted certain rules that will be applied while cooking and presenting the food, he gives advice on how to shop for, and store produce too.
Inspired by Brutalist architecture, Höller’s Brutalist cooking generally focuses on isolating an ingredient along with its function. The goal in doing this is to access, in his own words, a rare dish that cannot be found in the restaurant world. Based on simplicity and bringing directness to an extreme, it aims to form a creative field that will bring humble and often overlooked ingredients to the fore and reveal their different potentials.
Reimagining the Brutalist Kitchen in an animal-product-free context only expands the freedom it proposes. Sticking with the main rules, we are experimenting with possibilities.
Main rule: a single ingredient on a plate, perfectly cooked.
The main rule of Brutalist cuisine is to use only one ingredient in each dish. Without combining the main ingredient with secondary flavours, we simplify and fix our focus both in content and presentation. You may add salt, use flour to thicken, or some lemon to balance flavours, etc. In Höller's definition, "to clear ingredient from background noise”, we are revealing the flavour of the ingredient using different techniques. We are making a simple presentation sophisticated and a humble ingredient shine; by not crowding the content and presentation, the meal turns into a completely different experience.
Vegan rule: a single ingredient on a plate, multiple plates on the table.
There is room for every ingredient in Höller's Brutalist cuisine, the plates mostly revolve around meat; generally bird and fish species are cooked in various ways, their sauce made with the unused parts. A vegan kitchen will include not only vegetables and fruits, but their peels and seeds, also mushrooms, sea vegetables, legumes and their different preparations on this table. Serving dishes focused on cooked or dried tomatoes, capers, mushrooms or tahini/sesame oil on separate plates is also essential for the integrity of the meal. One dish still contains one ingredient, but it's okay to serve multiple different plates, so you can combine while eating.
Try to find items you don't normally use or that are rare.
The characteristic ingredients of Brutalist cuisine are rare or infrequent, discarded ingredients. On my last trip to Belgrade, a few hours before my flight back home, I came across a special kind of mushroom after walking around the farmer's market. After marinating the ‘chicken mushroom’ in tamari overnight and simply pan-frying it, both its taste and texture were so much like chicken that I almost had a hard time eating it. The rare ingredients focused on in the Brutalist Kitchen can be as simple as different kinds of mushrooms.
Forget recipes, focus on ingredients
Brutalist Kitchen is an ingredient-driven cooking process; emphasising an ingredient, it focuses on the "essence" and the "essential". Instead of following a recipe, we follow an ingredient; focusing on a single quality that the ingredient will add to the dish. This is not a set of methods per se; it is more of a cooking attitude. Special cooking techniques can be used without losing our loyalty to the purity and simplicity of the dish.
Try a technique you haven't tried before.
The taste we get from food will change not only by mixing ingredients but also by applying different techniques to a single ingredient. The artistic and chemical nature of cooking provides multiple potentials that can emerge with different techniques.
Brutalist Vegan dish ideas:
Try making crackers with sunflower seed flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, salt and water and serve it with sunflower seed paste. A more traditional route could be frying an oven-baked beetroot and serving it with a simple sauce made using its juice, flour and some lemon. A much simpler brutalist dish can be created by rinsing boiled buckwheat noodle in cold water and serving it with ice. You will see that grapes have a completely different aroma after just staying overnight in the freezer, and you can experiment with 1-ingredient sorbets too. You can create a crumbly cheese similar to feta cheese by wrapping hard tofu, which you have thoroughly cleansed of its water by wrapping it in a cloth, and blending it with coconut oil, lemon juice and a little apple cider vinegar. The purpose of coconut oil is not to add flavour, even choosing refined coconut oil if you can get it will eliminate its taste. It is to ensure that the cheese has a crumbly consistency, in this sense, it can be considered a technical choice, rather than a taste component. The whole purpose is to keep the essence and character of the ingredient and bring its taste to the fore.
Besides the health and environmental benefits, Veganism is an invitation to intimacy with food, doing no harm in the process radically improves our relationship with what we are eating. To offer a Vegan alternative to this meat-focused ‘cuisine’ brings forth naturalness, highlights simplicity and its modest quality— better mimicking a Brutalist construction.
Cooking and presenting food for ourselves and to others could easily become a habit with little to no intention, almost a mechanic process where we follow a recipe because we rather would eat something familiar than to be disappointed with the outcome. This food for thought could change your relationship with or view to eating, it could also be a one-time-experiment that will lead to new ideas.
Text : Damla Bozoglu
Date : August 11th, 2021
Check out Höller’s original Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto here.