Painting Masters

A Gourmet Take

08/20/2019 · By Teresa Morales
Balaguer, Dopico, the Arzaks and Berasategui (see image) are four of the 25 renowned chefs who have collaborated with the Thyssen-Bornemisza, transforming famous paintings into tasty dishes.© National Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

In a move towards originality, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum reinvents the appeal of painting, bringing it closer to the charms of haute cuisine with a scrumptious art book.

To the amazement of all and sundry, four centuries after Dutch painting masters such as Gabriel Metsu, Willem Claesz Heda, and Emanuel de Whitte depicted the culinary delights and customs of their time (The Cook, Still Life with Fruit Pie and Various Objects, The Old Fish Market on the Dam), the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum has turned history around by commissioning 25 prestigious contemporary chefs with a gastronomic reinterpretation of some of the museum’s most outstanding canvases. An original idea but not a far-fetched one considering that “the opposite of cuisine as a visual art would be painting as a culinary art,” says Guillermo Solana, the museum’s artistic director.

All replicas are featured in The Thyssen on a Plate, a sort of luxury recipe book that will undoubtedly become iconic for painting enthusiasts and lovers of haute gastronomy alike. And this isn’t an overstatement.

For example, the replica of Oriol Balaguer (crowned Best Pastry Chef by the International Academy of Gastronomy in 2018) proves it is possible to transfer the female cosmos of painter Sonia Delaunay to a dessert. An orange sponge cake with lychee jelly, raspberry compote, Tahiti vanilla, and lime zest make up Insinuación, a sophisticated and elegant dessert, as well as Simultaneous Dresses, also by the French artist.


Another great pastry chef, Venezuelan Andrea Dopico, head of pastry at the Alàbriga Hotel & Home Suite 5GL restaurant (and one of the world’s 30 most influential people under 30 according to Forbes), recreated The virgin of the Dry Tree by Flemish painter Petrus Christus using crunchy chocolate, Jivara creamy chocolate, moelleux au chocolat and bourbon jelly, resulting in a play of contrasts between softness and coarseness, rudeness and tenderness that might as well have inspired Petrus himself to drop the brushes and devote his life to the world of cuisine.

The starting point of ​​this appealing book was having the 25 chefs seek for inspiration in the Thyssen’s rooms and choose one painting to make an exclusive recipe. “It wasn’t about literally translating the painting into a plate, but about drawing inspiration from the painting’s theme or from the texture of the materials used by the artist," a Thyssen representative says. Sometimes, as Guillermo Solana says in the prologue, “the finest ‘translation’ of a wooded landscape can be a mushroom dish, as Víctor Arguinzoniz and Paco Morales show in their respective creations."

In this interesting and difficult feat, some chefs like Martín Berasategui (ten Michelin stars) were enlightened by the landscape and the surroundings. “When I saw Jacob Philipp Hackert's painting, Landscape with the Palace at Caserta and Vesuvius, I felt immersed in the mountains of the Basque Country, with grazing sheep and the taste of lamb, and I was clear about what to do. Suckling Lamb Chop with Parmesan Whey, Fritter and Wild Asparagus is a tribute to these mountains, to the shepherds and the flavours of yesteryear,” he explains. A dish that sounds very traditional, but when looking at it very carefully, it becomes apparent it is a masterpiece of contemporary haute cuisine.

Juan Mari and Elena Arzak went for a more rebellious take by choosing Piet Mondrian’s Composition in Colours / Composition No. I with Red and Blue and making an oyster dish in orange and green.

Balaguer, Dopico, the Arzaks and Berasategui are four of the 25 renowned chefs featured in the pages of this book that is a true work of art. Andoni Luis Aduriz, Samy Ali, Victor Arguinzoniz, Sura Ascaso, Juan Manuel de la Cruz, Quique Dacosta, Lucia Freitas, Gonzalo García and Luis G. Búa, Diego Guerrero, Sacha Hormaechea, Angel Leon, Roberto Martínez Foronda, Paco Morales, Toño Pérez, Albert Raurich, Roberto Ruiz, Carme Ruscalleda, Jesús Sánchez, Ricardo Sanz, Paco Torreblanca and Manuel Urbano complete the list of cooking geniuses who make of The Thyssen on the Plate a visual journey through taste understood both sensorially and aesthetically.

An exquisite, sublime journey to delight the senses that shows that, when it comes to artfully combining elements, colours, shapes, textures, symbols, lights and shadows, painters and chefs have a lot in common.