TASTE PRESIDES OVER OUR WORK
THE COOKBOOKS OF MARIE-ANTONIN CAREME
Research paper completed as part of Spring 2011 Seminar "Art, Science, Technology: Historical Perspectives"
Instructor: D. Graham Burnett
Published in Pidgin 12, 2012
The drawings by the French cook Marie-Antonin Carême have interested gastronomically inspired architects and critics for some time. Taken from Carême’s first cookbook Le Pâtissier Royal Parisien (1815), they depict some of his famous “pièces montées.” These were superbly large edible constructs in the shape of boats, musical instruments, and buildings. The Pâtissier contains instructions for countless such architectural fantasies, including an “Ancient Temple on Rock,” a whole section on Rotundas (offering a choice between “Rustic”, “In Ruins” or “With Palm Trees”), recipes for a Pediment (optionally also in ruins), a Dutch Hermitage, a Chinese Pavilion and an Egyptian Belvedere. Carême, in his characteristically buoyant tone is known to have said “Architecture is the first amongst the arts, and confectionery is the highest form of architecture.”
This paper began as research into the status of the architectural discipline and its epistemological identity. It ended as a piece on the work of Carême, the most significant, most pompous cook that France and Europe has ever seen. Gastronomy is perhaps architecture’s polar opposite, as well as its closest relative. Speaking between them is an exercise in analogy, one that circles around the question of “taste.” It constitutes a jump from the most permanent art form to the most fleeting: from stone to food, from hammer to ladle. Both disciplines are founded upon an understanding of their historical necessity and the fundamental bodily needs that they seek to satisfy. This entirely elementary nature constitutes a source of intellectual credibility and identity, but it also persistently undermines claims towards either discipline being any more than mindless and artless bodily labor.
Working closely with Carême's writings, the essay seeks to analyze how Carême reached for cultural recognition on behalf of his artisanal practice, and enabled it to find its place in a post-Enlightenment world dominated by the scientific paradigm. Taste is shown to exceed its traditional definition in his thinking and writing, and instead is understood as a threefold structure, consisting of sensual perception, embodied expertise and discursive judgment. This, in turn, illuminates the role of taste in the architectural discipline. Taste in architecture is no less tactile than its culinary counterpart. In the same manner as our culinary taste negotiates our body’s interaction with the world outside us, so architectural taste shapes, discerns and judges the physical environment surrounding us. The locus for both culinary and architectural tastes remains the body in its entirety. Design, like sugar spinning, is only mastered and understood through acts performed time and again in a continuous cycle of creation and apprehension.