I am not an artist. I am, in fact, quite bad at art. Despite having a mother, aunty, and sister who are all incredible at painting, and design, I am your worst Pictionary partner. The person who doesn’t even doodle in meetings because it’s actually a bit crushing how bad the results are. I can draw Homer Simpson’s head, but that’s about it.
You know who was an artist, though? Picasso. Picasso was firmly an artist. If you were ever asked to name an artist, maybe on a game show or a date, absolutely no one would disagree if you said “Pablo Picasso.” The Spanish Artist and co-founder of Cubism was big into painting, sculpting, sleeping with women who weren’t his wife, and spending time in his nice French villa, probably with a dog.
Picasso’s life seemed pretty sweet (see: dog). Apart from having a large amount of anxiety about his relationship with women, to the point where he started drawing dicks on their heads, his existence looked bless. Making some of the century’s best paintings, trolling exhibition spaces by not turning up to his own retrospective, being mates with Gertrude Stein and Matisse (imagine! Mates with Matisse!) … Classic Picasso stuff, really.
He wasn’t, however, that into food. In a Vogue interview published in 1964, Picasso’s then-wife Jacqueline Roque said of the artist, “Picasso is as sober and frugal as a goat. One day, I made him a stew of eels, a masterwork. He decided to paint it, rather than eat it. Afterwards, he dedicated the painting to me.”
Despite this, London’s contemporary art gallery, the Tate Modern, has decided to introduce a new menu at its restaurant, framed around what Picasso ate. The set menu coincides with their new exhibition on the artist, Picasso, 1932 Love, Fame, Tragedy, which opened in March. For anyone who wishes to eat like the artist did, rather than to have, say, a nice pasta following their trip to the gallery, there are six options: a starter of Spanish tortilla, baked salt cod, or something alarmingly called “bacon crapieux.” After that, there’s a main of squid, roasted rabbit leg, or if you’re unlucky enough to be an art lover and vegetarian, bean and vegetable stew.
The menu is the work of Jon Atashroo, head chef at the Tate’s restaurant, and was no easy task to put together. Atashroo began looking for inspiration on the internet, turning to the aforementioned Vogue piece, but realised that there wasn’t a lot of writing on Picasso’s eating habits. It wasn’t until he heard about a rare book called Picasso, Bon Vivant by Ermine Herscher, that he realised he had found the right source for his menu.
“There wasn't really much out there,” Atashroo tells me, after I travel to the Tate one Monday lunchtime to sample the food. “Then I got lucky, and I found a book that seemed to talk about his life and food, but turns out there were no copies of it in this country.”
After a lengthy search, Atashroo ended up finding the book in British Library. But due to strict rules around requesting books, he was left with one evening to prepare the menu.
“I think I had three hours to read the book back to front, take some notes, get home, stay up all night, writing this menu, rewriting, and rewriting. And then eventually, it all kind of balanced.”
Looking over the menu, I’m not astounded by Picasso’s taste in food. Bean and veg, Picasso? You were worth $50 million when you died—couldn’t have maybe mixed it up a little?
“Picasso is one of those people that even when he got wealthy, he always said he likes simple food,” explains Atashroo. “He liked sausages, he liked eggs, he liked bacon, he liked garlic. He's looking at simple ingredients but eating them in a simple way.”
“Even ten years before he died, he's eating tortilla,” Atashroo continues. “Bean stew was a cheap thing that [Picasso and friend Carlos Casagemas] could eat and they'd share it and a number of different artists would come round to where they lived.”
I’m getting hungry, so I decide it’s time to try to the menu. I order the tortilla, followed by the squid and rice dish because, despite not eating fish, I refuse to have a bean stew (sorry, Pablo). My mate gets the bacon crapiaux with andouillette—otherwise known as sausage made out of a pig’s bowels—and the rabbit leg. Although Atashroo denies formally trying to incorporate Picasso’s style into his food’s design, the torte is impressively cubist.
Unfortunately, this is the most impressive part of the meal, which is quite bland overall. I ask Atashroo what he thinks of Picasso’s taste in food. He pauses. “It's difficult to know exactly what the dish is that he would have eaten,” he says. “I've tried to update them a bit so they'll sit in a modern restaurant sphere, but I like that kind of food. I like simple things that are delivered well.”
After the meal, I wander out of the restaurant, and down into the Easter crowds of the gallery to have a look at the exhibition. The showcase, which displays Picasso’s work in the year 1932, consists mainly of women in chairs looking quite sexy, a video of an octopus (not by Picasso), and one painting that apparently contains an arsehole but I can’t spot it. There’s a lot about sexuality, love, gender, arseholes, death, and sadness, so all in all, ripe ground to be inspired.
I move through the exhibition, trying to work out whether the meal has turned me into the visionary I truly am. Was food Picasso secret? Did that bite of tortilla ignite a flow of creative energy in me? Am I now an artist?
No, is the answer. Instead of feeling inspired by the meal, or even satisfied, I feel a bit ill. The meal is sitting weirdly, and it wasn’t hugely flavoursome. To be fair, no one said Picasso was a real foodie, and it seems he was more into his art and cheating on his wife than determining the best Spanish tortilla recipe.
Maybe Picasso’s meals weren’t the key to his success. Guess it’s, [leans in] [taps mic] back to the drawing board for me.