Simone Mattar’s 2013 “I Eat Therefore I Think” has been the largest, most sophisticated and intricate of her gastroperformances to date. After 10 years designing cafeterias for SESC, Mattar approached them with a proposed gastroperformance tour-de-force for which SESC agreed to give all logistic, research and sponsorship support. With total freedom to create, Mattar has been able to bring forward her distinctive vision of Brazil’s truly enormous and largely untapped gastronomic possibilities, interwoven by a multifaceted, critical and often humorous look at some of the country’s umpteen wonders. In “I Eat Therefore I Think”, she introduces gastronomy as an expressive medium like no one has done before: she has created a dining experience where irony and history, Brazilian exotica and memorabilia, music and dance, text and wordplay, all intermingle and swirl around taste and texture –that is, food.
We are treated to a nine-course dinner where each course points to a foundational event in Brazil’s history, or builds up on one of its myriad cultural features. The menu swallows Brazilian references and brings them back up to be concocted into a unique identity, exactly like Brazil has always done: the country goes back to itself as food, and is aware of itself through food. An indigenous legend on the creation of cassava –a Brazilian staple since pre-Columbian times– becomes an edible light fixture with filigreed native inscriptions; the killing and eating of Dom Sardinha, the first Bishop of Brazil, by a Northeastern cannibal tribe in 1556 becomes a sardine-based delicacy shaped like a human head, sided by an edible excerpt of the 1928 Cannibalist Manifesto by the Brazilian Modernist Art movement; a questioning look at the “banana republic” epithet for a country originally brimming with precious metals becomes a fake golden banana –reminiscent of Carmen Miranda’s golden outfit– filled with a delicious cheese-and-banana mousse and lying on top of a custom-made rococo stand inscribed with a wry phrase about the country selling itself as cheap as bananas. Those and six other masterpieces of convergent artistry, research, thoughtfulness, criticism, cultural sensitivity and, obviously, epicureanism which completely obliterate facile fast food fares and discard standard international menus are laid out in turns on a table for 30 diners in two-hour sessions, each course prefaced by a short music-and-dance vignette taken from Brazil’s vertiginously vast folk repertoire.
The nine-course menu:
• The Indian Legend of the Cassava: Duck marinated in tucupi-based arubé sauce, with sautéed cassava and egg farofa; sided with liquid tacacá pastry and jambu flower; edible light fixture made from crunchy cassava.
• The Bishop’s Head: Human head made from grilled sardine mousse, sided with crunchy crostata and açaí paper.
• The Royal Dream – Monarchy’s Last Ball: Doughnut-like pastry (called ‘dream’ in Portuguese), savory rather than sweet, lined with codfish and green olives, filled with crab foam and iquiriba mayonnaise; crown made from tomato and crunchy garlic; resting on codfish with smoked maxixe blades and seafood.
• Saintly Food – Afro-Brazilian Religions: Edible paper and offerings of cará, shrimp and garlic flower for Iemanjá; palm wine and okra for Ogum; capon chicken and aromatic chili for Exu; centered by a translucent caramel ball filled with smoke from cloves, cinnamon and obi shells; lined with acaçá (white corn and lemon); sided with vatapá sauce and acarajé farofa.
• Messianic Rebel Banditry: Glazed goat shoulder, cateto rice (squash water, beef stock, clarified butter and half-matured cheese), sided with paçoca-de-pilão (dried meat and cassava flour with clarified butter), prickly pear jelly, with peanut cake and purslane.
• Bone Craftwork: Limestone-smoked squash cubes , filled with rib ragu and squash cream with canasta cheese; sided with mate-herb chimichurri.
• The Price of Bananas: A banana-shaped cover of gold-dyed cinnamon filled with cheese, butter, banana mousse and candied banana.
• The Holy Spirt: A print of chili-seasoned chocolate, painted red, filled with chocolate cake, cupuaçu candy, baru nuts and crunchy araçá.
• The Brazilian Tray: Paçoca mousse tartlet stuffed with paçoca mousse and farofa , guava cream, cottage cheese in a white chocolate shell bathed in milk chocolate; guava paper, dyed sweet popcorn, jabuticaba candy and lace made from graviola.