Feast Belly and Mind
19 Mar 2008
Culinary activist, Miche Fabre Lewin and chef/nutritionist, Daphne Lambert are dedicated to the whole cycle of food production, from cultivation, through cooking to composting.
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When artist and culinary activist, Miche Fabre Lewin met chef and nutritionist, Daphne Lambert, they recognised they were kindred spirits. Now they are dedicated to the whole cycle of food production, from cultivation, through cooking to composting. Miche explains the story behind the Soil Sisters and their GastroDome ñ a dining space where the healing art of cooking and eating can be appreciated.
Miche Fabre Lewin is an artist and professional cuisiniere based in Oxfordshire. She devises and performs healing food rituals and ceremonies at art centres, gardens, agricultural sites and cooks for residential retreats throughout England and Wales. Daphne Lambert runs an organic kitchen and healing food centre at Penrhos Court in Herefordshire. Both hold hands-on workshops to introduce participants to the joy of working with the colourful, living energy of organic, vibrant foods.
Daphne and Miche’s collaboration developed over time, with telephone calls, culinary explorations in each other’s kitchens, hedgerow fruit picking and morning walks among the inspiring Welsh hills. They discussed food: its production, preparation, presentation, rituals and methods of enhancing its healing energy. Now, as Soil Sisters’, they are dedicated to re-animate our food culture based on seasonal, local and artisan traditions as well as promote more natural methods of food cultivation.
After many miles, moons and musings, they realised that their unique and complementary culinary practices shared a deep respect for the medium in which natural plant life flourishes ñ the living soil. Their partnership is motivated by the aesthetic of an ecological gastronomy’ that fully recognises food as a medicine, cooking as an art and eating as an act of respect to agriculture.
Last year, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Hay Festival, the Soil Sisters opened their amazing GastroDome’ ñ a unique dining adventure, located under a 60 foot canvas Geodome. Above the entrance waved an irresistible invitation to Feast Belly and Mind’.
Inside, visitors’ eyes were drawn to large photographic displays on the curving walls, celebrating ecological gastronomy: an artisan baker beamed among his loaves; edible plants flourished in a natural food garden; in local catch’ a freshly caught carp was proudly displayed; another scene showed a smiling woman stirring a vat of milk, gently curdling to become organic Caerphilly, a Welsh farm-house cheese.
Tantalising smells drew visitors into the dome towards the wooden counter. Behind it, in an open-plan kitchen, a culinary tribe was engaged in the flow of the day’s preparations. Earthy vegetables were being hand-washed and chopped; salad leaves and herbs were being picked over; rounds of farmhouse cheese were being carved to accompany the moist, chunky slices of rye sourdough loaves; smoked carp filets were delicately pared into transparently thin slices. On the ranges, steam rose from simmering stockpots and in the massive woks, onions were slowly caramelising.
This was GastroDome ñ a dining place, designed as a convivial space in which to appreciate how the healing art of cooking and eating can be appreciated. It offered only a seasonal menu, sourced and improvised by the Soil Sisters from a selection of local, organic and wild produce. Even the dome was local ñ designed and made just a stone’s throw from Hay itself.
Each day as noon approached, three large ceramic dishes were placed on the counter, arranged with the day’s choice of cheese, fish and plant dishes. Alongside, the wooden barques were filled with vibrant, freshly dressed salad leaves and handmade seasonal pickles. Soup bowls were stacked awaiting to be filled with the day’s soup and the nourishing smell of artisan bread, abundant in baskets, reminded diners of the original meaning of companion ñ someone with whom one shares good bread.
Ecological gastronomy begins with soil and ends with soil. All the raw vegetable waste from Gastro-Dome was composted in large vats. This was returned to the food gardens that supplied the salads and vegetables. More symbolically, two sculptural homages, one to Soil’ and the other to Water’, rose up within the large floral displays either side of the kitchen area to represent the Hearth and Fire. Three hessian sacks of organic soil and a stone-carved birdbath filled with pure, clean water were an acknowledgement of the source materials in Soil Sister’s culinary project. And, in a final gesture of completion, after the event, the soil from the hessian sacks was returned to the compost vats ñ so continued the cycle of sustainable food growing.
The GastroDome will return to the Guardian Hay Festival in May 2008. Deep thanks for the partnership of the Soil Association and Rachel’s Organic, without whose sponsorship there would have been no GastroDome at Hay 2007
Contact: Miche Fabre Lewin
and Daphne Lambert
Photo: © Soil Sisters
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