Exhibition food for thought on chefs through history

Darlington and Stockton Times: BITE-SIZE INSIGHT: Food artist and historian Ivan Day with a cake BITE-SIZE INSIGHT: Food artist and historian Ivan Day with a cake

One table setting is of ‘The Supper – Queen Victoria’s Visit to Hatfield House, October 25, 1846’ (artist unknown) and shows a lavish banquet attended by the monarch and Prince Albert.

Mr Day explained: “Many food professionals worked in palaces and grand houses for the upper classes. They were incredibly skilled, but worked in conditions no modern chef would want to work in.

“The idea of this recreation is to show how extraordinary a meal could be in the 19th century. The trouble with a lot of this food is that it depended on specialised equipment – it was much fussier and artistically wrought.

“Anyone who would want to create this today would find it very difficult. The food of the 19th century reflected the style of decoration, furniture and even the dress fashion of the day, so what you get is a very elaborate way of presenting food – but it was for a very important occasion.”

The exhibition – Feast Your Eyes: The Fashion of Food in Art – is due to be opened by celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager tonight (Friday) and runs until January 6, so Mr Day has used various resins and sugar paste to make the ‘food’ in his recreations.

But he believes anyone with an interest in food heritage will learn more from the exhibition than watching programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, on which he presents historic segments.

“The Great British Bake Off is very popular and a lot of entertainment, but I am not a great fan. It is a big distraction for people like me. I am interested in what our ancestors ate – and why. The food history bits on Bake Off are the most important. All food we eat now has been inherited from our ancestors.

“It would be better if food programmes changed a little bit. They don’t want to do anything that looks at food from a cultural point of view, which is what this exhibition does.

“The opportunity they have given me here is to bring the image to life, so at least you are getting the visual feel.”

It is the third time Mr Day has worked with the Bowes Museum. He was part of 1994’s Tempting Table exhibition and in 2003 was guest curator of an exhibition about sugar sculpture.

In addition to Feast Your Eyes, he is working towards an exhibition in Minneapolis in December looking at English food in the Tudor period and is also filming with Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood for a new TV show.

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