Monday, September 04, 2006

The Oxford Symposium

This last weekend saw the twenty-fifth Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery take place in the elegantly functional surroundings of St Catherine’s College Oxford. Designed, down to the door knobs and the fish in the ponds, by Arne Jacobsen in 1963 it is a calm yet surprising environment and it looks as if the Symposium will settle in here for the foreseeable future.

The topic under discussion this year was The Egg; star of the show was undoubtedly Prof Hervé This whose presentation on Molecular Gastronomy, complete with props of potentially explosive egg whites, brought the house down. I have never seen spread sheets excite so much delight. Wild hair, escaping shirt tails, flailing arms, comedy accent, we were entranced.

Papers were presented in parallel sessions so you had to make hard choices. I thought the participants would be an earnest and academic lot, intimidating as an assembly. They are serious, but not earnest, amateurs in the best sense of the word, and there were some fine presentations. Among those I saw I loved ‘Creating with Arctic Eggs’ given by Zona Spray Starks, about the fish eggs of the Arctic where she grew up. It was fascinating and really quite disturbing. I arrived at Michelle Toratani’s presentation on raw eggs just as she got to the word ‘mucilaginous’ and was sorry I missed what went before. Phyllis Thompson Reid gave a clever and sprightly paper - “the Ultimate in Cookery”: The Soufflé’s Rise and Feminism’s Second Wave – to an audience that converted the session into a vibrant discussion on Julia Child.

The food was excellent with menus and recipes by Caroline Conran and Anissa Helou. Egg oriented, but not so you would really notice!

Carolin Young has a wonderful project to bring Salvador Dali’s idea for a giant hard boiled egg to fruition. Participants got into Blue Peter mode and stayed up half the night to make a papier maché model of the mould for this creation, which it is reckoned will take 153,400 eggs to make. The idea is to separate the eggs and whites and make a giant hard boiled egg. I had a really interesting discussion with a scientist about whether it would actually stand up once out of the mould, or whether it would collapse under its own weight. I think this pondering is an extension of the artistic idea. Prof This has however offered to provide a spray-on calcified surface to offer protection. This we have to see!

The people who came to the Symposium were an absolute delight. Please take a look at Jake Tilson’s book 'A Tale of 12 Kitchens' ( Weidenfeld & Nicolson) because you will love it. Not only did he write it, he designed the whole thing too, down to an original typeface. It is colourful and intriguing and begs to be read. I will be reviewing it in a later post.

Jeffery Steingarten was there and although my heart was a-flutter I did go and chat to him. Actually I went down on one knee.

So if you come next year you too will get to prop up the bar with Raymond Sokolov! Please come. All the people that write to me on this blog would love the Symposium. It’s open to all, the place is a gem, so just boogie on down to Oxford in 2007.


Jeanne said...

That sounds just fabulous! I'd never heard of it - more's the pity as the egg theme would have dovetailed nicely with the End of Month Egg on Toast Extravaganza ;-) Next year I would definitely be interested though.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello June. Is the topic for next year's symposium decided yet? I had planned to try and make it this year, but too many other things got in the way.

Susan in Italy said...

Glad to see you're back from your holidays, June! What a tempting offer, Oxford 2007. What's the topic next year, have they said yet? BTW, We got a bread starter sitter while we were away (I know, I know) what did you do with yours?

lindy said...

Wouldn't I just love it! Overcome with envy, and can't wait to hear more.

June said...

It would be so nice if you could all get there, and I can promise you a really good time. The topics alternate between a food stuff (this year Eggs) and a more abstract theme. Next year is to be something like Food & Morality, or maybe Food & Ethics, they hadn't quite decided. (This is absolutely up your judgely street Lindy!) Look on the website for details.

Susan - I put the starter in the bottom of the fridge and sailed carelessly away. I must try and bring it back to life soon!

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