At the Wallace Art Awards cocktail event on September 3, attendees will each be served a dessert consisting of praline feuilletine, 70 per cent dark chocolate mousse, almond panna cotta and hazelnut dacquoise. Upon this extravagant, yet superbly balanced concoction will rest a tiny white chocolate hand, painted four colours - orange, yellow, red and blue - each layered separately on the last in order to achieve the effect of shiny bronze.
The idea is to echo the winner's trophy, a Terry Stringer hand sculpture. But those who destroy these creations - in other words, allow them to be fully realised by eating them - may recognise the hand from somewhere else. At the Auckland Art Gallery Cafe during the Degas to Dali exhibition, the hand was gloved in yellow and possessively held a lemon syrup cake on a brownie base, the whole rectangle enrobed with textured strawberry couverture splashed with dark chocolate and cut away on top to reveal a circle of white chocolate mousse.
The concept for that intricate bagatelle with hidden depths - the colours, flavours and glove - was taken from one little-known painting in the exhibition: James Cowie's The Yellow Glove (1928), a portrait of the artist's wife. The National Gallery of Scotland's description of the painting serves also to describe its homage on a plate: "bright colours ... striking looks and rather aloof expression ... precise linearity ... painterly elements". The Yellow Glove was a cake to remember.
It disappeared with the Dalis, but it was only the first of a series of cakes (as well as other menu items) planned to accompany major gallery exhibitions. "Island Passion", the cake celebrating the Pacific art show Home AKL is equally delicious, even if the concept is more general (the flavours are tropical, rather than uniquely Pacific). It's a refreshingly citrusy tower of vodka lime cake layered with pineapple mousse and passionfruit jelly, garnished with poached red fruit, and finished with four minute dots of green - yes, green - chocolate.
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Auckland Art Gallery is not the first institution to expand the art experience with a toothsome aftertaste. The famous exhibition-matching "image cakes" of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo have included the sweet face of a Henry Darger girl-child surrounded by real flowers, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art serves up a geometrical "Mondrian cake" of red, white, yellow and blue velvet cake squares separated with chocolate ganache.
Grahame Dawson - whose company, Dawsons Catering, runs the gallery cafe - brought food/art matching to Auckland, with star pastry chef Kenny Cheung creating the showpieces. Cheung was lured to work for Dawsons last year when they turned their Eden Tce staffroom into a pastry kitchen specially for him. The kitchen is kept at 18C, has marble-topped benches and is a resolutely garlic-free zone. "We had to sell two of the children and one of the houses to buy it," jokes Dawson.
A few years ago it wouldn't have been worth it; no one would buy an art cake for $8, no matter how intriguing. "But there's a market for what Kenny does now," says Dawson. And a new way of absorbing art.