Peter Gordon's eccentric dinner at Auckland Art Gallery

By Kim Knight

Kim Knight takes a seat alongside the moneyed and hungry at Auckland Art Gallery.
The fourth course - cauliflower presented in a brown paper bag. Photo / Dean Purcell
The fourth course - cauliflower presented in a brown paper bag. Photo / Dean Purcell

The cauliflower arrived at 10.17pm. It was the fourth course of a $275-a-head dinner at the Auckland Art Gallery.

An olfactory assault, born of baked Brassica oleracea var. botryris. A fart in a brown paper bag.

Peter Gordon last ate this dish in Tel Aviv.

He went to Israel and had it with pomegranate yogurt and his bestie, Yotam Ottolenghi.

"You might think, seriously, you've paid a lot of money to come for dinner from a brown paper bag," Gordon told the hungry and moneyed on a Thursday night in May. "But it's good, I promise you."

Gordon had planned the menu, Judy Millar was art directing: The Holy Palate: a theatrical dining experience. A fundraiser for a new Millar commission in the Auckland Art Gallery's south atrium; an awareness-raiser for the relaunched Auckland Art Gallery Foundation. Give them $5000! Give them $1 million! They will give you a cauliflower in a paper bag.

Rhana Devenport, art gallery director, wore shoes by Trippen, frock by Comme Des Garcons and earrings from Brisbane. She said that an art gallery was a safe place, full of unsafe ideas.

Earlier, she had told the crowd to follow the man with the bassoon and they had, a procession of painted, raised eyebrows and twirled moustaches; a woman with a small birdcage affixed to the top of her head. The dress code was Formal Dada and every champagne glass was tagged with a quote from the absurdist art movement that had just turned 100 years old.

Ben Hoadley on bassoon leads guests, including gallery director Rhana Devenport (right) to dinner. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ben Hoadley on bassoon leads guests, including gallery director Rhana Devenport (right) to dinner. Photo / Dean Purcell

"Art needs an operation," said Tristan Tzara (1896-1963).

"Art is not about itself but the authenticity we bring to it," said Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).

"Tables 12, 13, 14 and 15 will be served first," said the terrifyingly efficient young woman from Dawson's Catering (5pm-11.30pm).

Every year now, there will be an annual appeal dinner with input from an artist. Millar made tonight's placemats - purple, green and gold pop-ups, splattered with paint and pasta.

Auckland Art Gallery becomes a one-night-only restaurant. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland Art Gallery becomes a one-night-only restaurant. Photo / Dean Purcell

In 2009 she was New Zealand's Venice Biennale representative but, years ago, she ran a macrobiotic restaurant.

"When I first left art school I had a strong desire to work with an expanded idea of what art could potentially be," Millar said. "That led me to open places that were about incorporating food, a place to discuss art and to experiment with art in an
environment other than a gallery. Five Columns Restaurant took those ideas quite far - it became a theatre of sorts.

Food was served, but every night had the potential to become an event that incorporated visuals, sound and performance."

Sight, sound, smell and taste. The evening would raise $101,000. There would be mutton curry and roti; baby brandy snaps with passionfruit curd, Turkish delight and macaroons, but the 160 guests began with a Layered Homage. A five-tiered macrobiotic tribute that smelled like the ocean: umeboshi hummus, chilli and lime avocado, lemon jelly, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and hijiki seaweed.

"Layered homage" a reference to artist Judy Millar's macrobiotic restaurant. Photo / Dean Purcell
"Layered homage" a reference to artist Judy Millar's macrobiotic restaurant. Photo / Dean Purcell

Gordon provided wooden spoons and the technical detail: "It's just a really yummy textural thing you're going to dip yourself in."

The second course was called Black Splash. On the stage, under lights, Gordon and company donned blue rubber gloves and threw linguine, squid and ink at 160 white bowls. At their tables, the guests donned enormous waterproof bibs. Carruthers-McKinnon-Tait-et-al. They hunched and slurped. Eat the rich.

No cutlery for course three. Towels scented with Aesop oils (sponsor: namechecked!) were handed out and then all hands went for tacos: crispy pork, feijoa chutney, pickled quince, cacao mole and cucumber.

 Peter Gordon and team plate "Black Splash", which guests ate while wearing waterproof bibs. Photo / Dean Purcell
Peter Gordon and team plate "Black Splash", which guests ate while wearing waterproof bibs. Photo / Dean Purcell

They paused to spend more money. A weekend for two at Tipapa Estate, a wine and cheese tasting for eight, two nights in the Pullman Hotel's presidential penthouse, "do-I-hear-$3000? My instructions are to sell, but it's disappointing ..." said Sophie Coupland.

In 1955, the artist Salvador Dali filled a car with cauliflower and drove from Spain to Paris.

In 2016, the artist Peter Gordon filled a gallery with cauliflower.

No cutlery for the taco course. Photo / Dean Purcell
No cutlery for the taco course. Photo / Dean Purcell

Dali said: "Everything ends up in the cauliflower!"

Gordon said: "Let's serve a lot of well-paid people cauliflower in a paper bag."

And so he did.

- Canvas

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