Still looking for the perfect gift for someone who appreciates cooking and cookbooks, art and photography, or somewhat obscure Spanish cultural history? Good news! Just this October I learned that Taschen would publish a new edition of Salvador Dalí’s Rare, Erotic Vintage Cookbook, Les dîners de Dalí, or Gala’s Meals, released on November 20, 2016. This is the first re-printing in over 40 years and considering the high quality, it’s quite reasonably priced at $59.99; at Amazon as low as $32. I pre-ordered my copy from Barnes & Noble for about $32 + free shipping, and it arrived the first week of December in all its gold-covered, surrealist splendor. Originally published in 1973 – in a limited quantity of only 400 – this fantastic cookbook fuses Surrealist art and photography with high-end French recipes containing ingredients rare in our contemporary American cuisine, such as calf’s head, small frog legs, lung, larks, and white blood sausage. The 2016 reprint features all 136 recipes in 12 chapters, each specially illustrated by Dalí and organized by meal courses, including everyone’s favorite part of a dinner party – aphrodisiacs!? The illustrations and recipes are accompanied by Dalí’s extravagant musings on subjects such as dinner conversation, “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge” (Taschen) and the smell of a simmering wine-based gravy, “Watch it! The aroma is somewhat pungent!” (Les dîners, p. 202).
It was actually about a year or two ago I discovered Les dîners de Gala on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog, the post I linked to above, “Salvador Dali’s Rare, Erotic Vintage Cookbook“. Somehow, I had never seen this cookbook before, which surprised me given that I have amassed shelves upon shelves of books on Salvador Dalí, and I have visited virtually EVERY museum dedicated to him or his work – in Spain (Figueres, Cadaqués, Púbol), London, and St. Petersburg, FL. For anyone who follows my blog, in the past three years I’ve written about Dalí’s Spanish Civil War paintings, his portrayals of the Catalonian landscape, his Christmas Cards, and his post-World War II posters warning of venereal disease. I even own a copy of the edition of Don Quijote de la Mancha that he illustrated in 1945, a work of art itself. But somehow I had never seen Les dîners de Gala, and I promptly made it my mission to find a copy. Unfortunately, before this year, the 1973 copies were extremely rare and way out of my price range. For those of you who are true bibliophiles, the Manhattan Rare Book Company has a signed first edition for “only” $4,400.00… you can also find copies on Amazon ranging from $500-1,000. Still, these prices were well beyond what a Spanish professor can afford to pay for a book, so discovering this new edition was very exciting. And like any good holiday shopper, I immediately bought it for myself!
Now that I have my own copy and have been able to examine every page and start reading the recipes and commentary, I wanted to do a bit of research to find out more about this book. Popova’s post – like almost any other Spanish or English blog post or article covering the cookbook – is largely a compilation of recipes and excerpts from the text, including several high quality images of the book’s phenomenal artwork and photography. While much of the artwork is colorful, ambiguous, and surreal in its juxtaposition of food, household objects, animals, and the human body, there are other sketches that appear a bit disturbing upon closer examination – at least for inclusion in a cookbook. Several illustrations include “creatures” that appear only partially human, leaning more toward the imaginary realm of gnomes or nymphs. Look closely – or not so closely! – and phallic imagery and nudity abound. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not accustomed to seeing artistic renditions of gnome penises when I’m preparing dinner! Not that I’m complaining (#lol) as this odd fusion of food, art, and eroticism, which Popova rightly points out in the title of her post, inspired me to do a bit more research. So, for this post, in addition to discussing Les dîners de Gala in more detail, I also want to delve into Dalí’s view of gastronomy – food, cooking, and elaborate dinner parties – as art forms aiming to capitalize on sensory pleasures.
First, I tried to find some background information on the cookbook, but there has not been much written in terms of critical articles or even general commentary in Dalí biographies. I did find a recent short review of the new edition of Les dîners de Gala by Diane Smyth, “Taschen serves up Salvador Dalí’s characteristically queasy 1973 recipe book in all its lurid glory,” which does an excellent job of contextualizing this publication within the broader scope of Dali’s varied literary and artistic production. I was particularly struck by her description of a peculiar dinner party thrown by Dalí and Gala in California in 1941: “Dalí and his wife Gala were known for their lavish dinners – you can find online footage of their 1941 Dizzy Dalí Dinner, when Gala bottle-fed a lion and the guests were served live frogs” (Smyth 11). Taschen’s description of the cookbook also draws attention to the artist’s “opulent dinner parties… [that] were the stuff of legend.” Of course I had to immediately search for this “Dizzy Dalí Dinner,” which I easily found on YouTube. Below is a short video of the dinner, followed by a transcript I typed up.
Transcript: Mr. Salvador Dalí gives a party. The Spanish painter of surrealism dresses Mrs. Dalí in a unicorn’s head – just to start things off. As hostess, she presides from a red velvet bed. The party is a benefit for refugee artists, and costumes are supposed to represent the guests’ bad dreams. Artist Dalí wears ear flaps, representing anatomy. A puzzled guest, Bob Hope, sees the fish course served in satin slippers… presumably the fish is sole. Soldier Jackie Coogan and Mr. Hope see the main course – the party is surrealism, but them frogs is real! [*Frogs begin to jump off Bob Hope’s dinner plate…*]
I soon discovered that the party was actually called “La noche en el bosque surrealista” or “The Night in the Surrealist Forest,” and took place in the Hotel del Monte in Monterrey, California as a benefit dinner for European artists exiled or displaced as a result of the Second World War. In addition to Smyth’s description, it’s also noteworthy that Gala was dressed as a unicorn, lounging on a velvet bed, and that guests – including celebrities like Bob Hope, Alfred Hitchcock, Bing Crosby, and Ginger Rogers – were asked to wear costumes representing their dreams (Weyers 48-49). Details and photographs of the planning and preparations for the party can be found in the short book, “A Surrealistic Night in an Enchanted Forest” by Barbara Briggs-Anderson and Julian P. Graham (2012); the first two chapters are available free with Google Books. Below is an image and recipe from Les dîners de Gala featuring a “Bush of Crayfish in Viking herbs”, followed by a surrealist rendering of a similar pile of prawns, designed in such a way as to evoke classical Spanish art, namely Velazquez’s Las meninas or other portraits of women of the 17th century court.
One thing that stuck out to me in this video is the fact that the main fish course was served in a shoe – satin slippers. Coincidentally, I had just seen a Buzzfeed “article”, “The worst things hipsters did to food in 2016“, and there were TWO instances (#12, #13) in which American restaurants served their food in a shoe – first in a shoe-shaped serving dish, then in a glass tennis shoe. While it made me laugh to think of how many “listicles” Dalí might inspire today – “22 dreams that will blow your mind” or “18 things that should NOT have a penis” – it also made me think about how we come to label and categorize aesthetic and cultural trends or movements like “surrealism” and, um… “hipster-dom” or “hipster-ism”? Were surrealists, in fact, early hipsters? Trusty Wikipedia suggests that the hipster’s origins can be traced to the 1940s… While this comparison is still a leap, or at the very least a hasty
generalization, the two groups certainly overlap in their underlying philosophies boadting the rejection of “popular taste” or skepticism towards so-called “mainstream” or “high-culture.” Importantly, though, by the 1940s, some critics and historians argue that Dalí had strayed from surrealism in the traditional sense, moving more towards a full-fledged, self-promoting, kitschy aesthetic in which “excellent taste was the last thing that concerned a painter whose aim… was to cretinize the public” and make money by linking his name to commercial products (Gibson 430-31). Gibson’s observation holds true in terms of the California dinner party as, despite Dalí’s professed fundraising intentions, the elaborate decorations and excessive cost of the “Surrealist Night in the Enchanted Forest” caused it to be a huge economic failure, incurring a debt that cancelled out the money raised (Meyer 49).
Returning to the cookbook, as I mentioned, I have not been able to find as much background information on its production as I had hoped. Even Ian Gibson’s immense biography of Salvador Dalí, The Shameful Live of Salvador Dalí, contains no mention if its existence. In a general article on forms of artistic expression through food, however, Garcia López and Lapeña Gallego trace the evolution of “kitchen art” in modern Spanish culture, pointing out that within the surrealist movement, food was extremely present in the work of Dalí. They observe that food – especially breads, eggs, milk, fish, and meat cutlets – served as symbolic strategies or expressive metaphors meant to capture the painter’s almost obsessive fascination with gastronomy as an art form (“…su fascinación hacia la gastronomía, a la cual consideraba un arte”). Below are three images from Dalí’s cookbook that reveal the artist’s fascination with the aesthetic and expressive potential of food.
Finally, Euronews has a short Spanish video promoting Dalí’s “new” cookbook, featuring an interview with Michelin Chef Sergio Humada, who insists that the recipes are uncomplicated classics, many of which can be made at home (with some advanced preparation in terms of procuring rare ingredients, of course). The video ends with brief comments from Montse Aguer, the director of the Museo-Teatro Dalí in Figueras, who emphasizes the importance of food as a recurring theme in Dali’s work: “Dalí associated eating with his being (persona), the act of which gave him new meanings… he also related gastronomy to the history of art”. A Dalinian creation made by altering an anonymous Flemish painting hangs in the background as she speaks. I’m including this oil painting composite, entitled “Cuant cau, cau“ (sic) or “When it falls, it falls“, below the final image from Dalí’s cookbook as a way of closing this post. The painting was created during the same years as the cookbook – 1972-73 – and according to the guidebook for the Teatro-Museo, “the soft (and edible) matter… converts the culinary elements of the picture into a lucid and foreboding nightmare of the physical disasters of death” (Giménez-Frontín 88-89). This final room of the museum was meant to be an homage to Francesc Pujols, a Catalan writer (poet) and philosopher “whose baroque thought and intuition always awakened Dalí’s interest an respect” (88). In fact, the various animals carcasses, lobsters, vegetables, and long tables adorned with elaborate plates and dishes in this oil painting perfectly complement the photogenic meals and tablescapes of Les dîners de Gala. Surprisingly, I was unable to find a high quality image of this painting online, so I am including a photograph taken from my 2001 museum guide. Real paper books still serve a purpose!
What are your favorite cookbooks? Do you appreciate them more for the recipes, the photography and artwork, or for the narrative? Have you read any history or criticism of “Gala’s Meals”?
Briggs-Anderson, Barbara and Julian P. Graham. Salvador Dalí’s ‘A Surrealistic Night in an Enchanted Forest. BookBaby, 2012. Google Books Preview
Dalí, Salvador. Les dîners de Gala. Trans. Captain J. Peter Moore. Taschen, 2016.
Garcia López, Antonio and Gloria Lapeña Gallego. “Arte y cocina: Nuevas formas de expresión artística a través de los alimentos.” ASRI Arte y Sociedad. Revista Investigación, no. 5, oct., 2013, n.p. PDF via Dialnet.
Gibson, Ian. The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí. Faber and Faber, 1997.
Giménez-Frontín, J. L. Teatre-Museu Dalí. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí. Tusquets/Electa, 2001.
Smyth, Diane. “Taschen serves up Salvador Dalí’s characteristically queasy 1973 recipe book in all its lurid glory.” The British Journal of Photography, Dec 2016, Vol.163 (7854), p.11. Link to December issue.
Weyers, Frank. Salvador Dalí. Vida y obra. Trans Carmen Colominas y Montserrat Sánchez. Könemann, 2000.