Meet the Chef Putting David Hockney on a Plate
Inspired by the Tate Britain’s major new exhibition of the British artist’s work, chef Garrett Keown has created a three-course dinner featuring Californian peppers and Yorkshire tea-smoked broth.
Walking into the Rex Whistler restaurant, located within London's Tate Britain art gallery, is like entering a painting. All four walls are adorned with a vast mural, created by the restaurant's namesake when it opened in 1927.
Depicting rolling green landscapes and mythical creatures, "In Pursuit of Rare Meats" is no doubt a stunning artwork—but I'm here for a more edible kind of artistry.
I'm meeting the restaurant's head chef Garrett Keown to find out how the work of British artist David Hockney, best known for his paintings of Los Angeles swimming pools and the Yorkshire countryside, has been recreated on a plate.
"This is probably one of the hardest menus I've put together," says Keown. "It's quite difficult to do a menu around an artist because if you look at a painting and then try to create a dish from it, it can be quite ... tricky."
But Keown has risen to the challenge of distilling Hockney's inimitable style into starters, mains, and puddings by devising a menu that celebrates the Tate Britain's recently opened exhibition showcasing six decades of the artist's work. And, of course, no good meal would be complete without a glass or two of wine.
"We're in a unique position being in a really great restaurant within an art gallery. You have a different set of dynamics to work to rather than just being a great restaurant on the high street," explains Hamish Anderson, CEO of Tate Catering and head wine buyer.
I'm interested to know how Keown and Anderson went about creating the Hockney-inspired menu. Will the wine be served in a miniature swimming pool? What about cutting a slice of terrine into pieces and rearranging them on a plate to mimic Hockney's composite polaroids?
Keown laughs: "I did some research on Hockney and found out about his background, where he lived, and where he did a lot of his paintings."
He continues: "I've looked at a few of his paintings like the swimming pool ones but trying to match food to a painting is more about appearance than taste. And for me, food is predominantly about how it tastes so I took more influence from him as a person. So, it boiled down to take inspiration from Yorkshire and California—two places that inspired Hockney."
OK, so no wine swimming pool. But scanning the menu, I admit that I'm struggling to find the Hockney elements.
"You might not immediately spot Hockney but if you look closely, you'll start to see the subtle connections," explains Keown.
Taking another look, I start to see where artist is hiding. To whet the appetite, there are Hockney peppers—but not the two whole capsicums like those depicted in the artist's etching.
"The peppers are one of the nods to California. It's a take on nachos where I've taken all the elements—the cheese, the tortilla chip, the avocados, the sour cream—and refined the dish," says Keown. "It's a whole jalapeño which we stuff with cream cheese and dots of avocado and sour cream."
Before we move onto mains, I ask Anderson what he'll be pouring.
"Our wine list is usually quite European-focused so we've brought in some Californian wines," he says. "It's been quite fortuitous because Californian wine has become really exciting in the last few years. There are some great small producers and people making much more food-friendly wines than they've done recently. In the past, there have been much bigger and more oaky wines."
Anderson continues: "The big challenge with Californian wines is the cost because they're quite expensive so we've worked with some of the less fashionable areas and grape varieties so we can pour them by the glass. So, for example, we're serving a Pinot Blanc which you don't see much of from California made by a producer called Skylark."
Travelling back across the Atlantic, Keown tells me that Hockney's home turf of Yorkshire is also being represented.
"We have a really excellent meat supplier based in Yorkshire who is great for beef and mutton," says Keown. "So we looked at some native breeds to do a take on a lamb hot pot. We take Yorkshire mutton which comes in whole and use everything. We confit down all the scrag ends and make a potato hot pot. Then we roast the loin and use the kidneys as well."
I joke that Yorkshire won't get a look in where the wine is concerned.
Anderson laughs: "There are actually some crazy people making wines up in Yorkshire. We got in some samples but they were … quite acidic. They're quite bracing," he says diplomatically. "But we're going to do some pairings around Yorkshire beers."
Moving swiftly onto dessert, both pivotal places in Hockney's life are represented.
Keown explains: "We have a Yorkshire forced rhubarb with blood orange in an Eton Mess and banana and peanut butter ice cream which is another play on that American element. They're actually the two best sellers on the dessert menu at the moment."
Before I leave, Keown agrees to show me one of his favourite dishes on the menu: Yorkshire tea-smoked celeriac broth with salt-baked celeriac purée. The tea leaves are blowtorched and put into a teapot, then infused with celeriac stock. The mixture is then poured into a bowl containing a small stack of celeriac purée and herbs.
I didn't get my swimming pool of wine, but as the truffle oil starts to separate on top of the broth, I can't help but think it looks a bit like Hockney's sunlight-dappled water.