I’m very lucky that my day job often presents me with wonderful opportunities to indulge my love of all things food. I set Boudicca up to showcase great British producers, chefs, restauranteurs – but also, fantastic new food-related ideas. And nothing could fit better in to that category than Tasha Marks.
Last week, I got to interview Tasha, the lady behind AVM Curiosities (which stands for Animal, Vegetable, Mineral) about creativity and telling stories through sugar.
Her story is pretty awesome; she studied at University of Sussex in Brighton, and spent a year being tutored by the silverware curator at the V&A. With that came an exploration of medieval banquets of the past, and the start of a fascination with the craft of sugar sculpturing and the decadent dessert halls once created to entertain guests; packed with sugar forests, moving sugar installations and much more.
Now she combines the world of art and food to create wonderful performances, bespoke tasting menus, edible lectures (where she makes goody bags containing edible treats to make specific points at various stages of the talk), limited edition edibles, exhibitions and installations. Most of her work is with sugar, since as she quite rightly told me; confectionery is one of those child-like curiosities that brings people together.
“A lot of people’s passions are either food or art, so I combine the two. Art and food have a mutual relationship. Food breaks down a lot of boundaries in art and art brings status to food.”
One of my favourite pieces of Tasha’s performance work is the edible bubble installation you can see below, which she created for the opening of Savage Beauty at the V&A. A perfect example of her ‘led by research’ approach, it’s based on one of Alexander McQueen’s most famous quotes; ‘‘Fashion is a big bubble, and sometimes I feel like popping it.”
To bring this to life, she created a black pool of edible goo, which was pumped with air to create bubbles as the night went on. Set to a backing track that gradually got more frantic at the evening went on, and the bubbles became more prolific.
Tasha also worked on the wonderful celebration of toast below, called The Poetry of Toast, which was part of Doug Aitken’s Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening at the Barbican. It took one of Britain’s favourite breakfast items and got people to make something beautiful using templates of quotes from poems about toast from literary history.
“Attendees were knighted with a Victorian toasting fork amulet before being lead to the toast library; where the quotes ranged from Wind in the Willows to Margaret Atwood. Their nostalgia successfully stimulated, they carried on to the toasting station, following the familiar steps before eventually using cinnamon (or chocolate) and a laser-cut stencil to print poetry on their hot buttered toast.”
Similarly, for the launch of Wedgwood’s ‘Taste of History’ range of teas, she created a tea pairing menu, with sweet items created to reflect the eras each of the teas were inspired by.
To match 1777 (Tea Party), Tasha created the Cornflower Cracknels below. Cracknels are a traditional English biscuit flavoured with caraway seeds and for this adaptation, blue cornflowers have also been added to complement the floral arrangement in the tea. The richness of that blue against the biscuit is just *stunning*.
According to an interview Tasha did with Four magazine last year, the foundations of food as art were laid in the medieval ‘void’, where fruit, jelly and other sweetmeats were often eaten standing up and away from the dining hall, allowing the room to be cleared for after dinner activities.
“This ‘ceremony of the void’ as it was known, gave dessert a detached quality, which set it apart from other modes of feasting and made dessert the very first form of installation art. What followed was the banqueting age and several hundred years of edible expression.”
Her favourite of these eras though is anything Elizabethan (closely followed by Victorian); “It was the era that saw the birth of dessert as we know it, amazing sugar sculptures and new ingredients being bought from overseas. Plus desserts were much more spiced and fragranced than most of what we have today, think orange flower water instead of vanilla, along with caraway seeds, cloves and ginger, I love those flavours.”
I was SUPER lucky to have walked away from our chat with one of Tasha’s limited-edition sugar sculptures. It’s made with a 17th century ‘sugar plate’ recipe and created using a hand-carved wooden mould. This design was originally created for This Sea of Sugar Knows No Bounds, AVM Curiosities’ large-scale installation for the Istanbul Design Biennale 2014.
It’s a beautiful thing, designed not to be eaten, but observed and cherished. It’s a lovely reminder for me of the simplicity of objects such as this, which engage in a different way than we’re perhaps used to. As Tasha says; “it’s important that we indulge and enjoy all of our senses, perhaps a little less time glued to our mobile phones and laptops.”
Tasha is currently preparing for The British Museum’s Day of the Dead’s celebrations, where she’s building The Calavera Cabinet. It’s a sugar sculpture shrine embellished with crystallised roses, chocolate Mexican milagros and edible iconography. Below (and in the featured image above) you can see a first draft of the Chilli Chocolate Aztec tablets that will be on show on the altar, alongside one of her crystallised roses.
You can see it for yourself in the North side of the Great Court from Friday 30th October – Monday 2nd November, alongside chocolate skulls by Conjurer’s Kitchen and wallpaper by Anatomy Boutique in the display.
Photo credits; Savage Beauty at the V&A from Paul Singer, Poetry of Toast by Amandine Alessandra courtesy of DesignMarketo, Wedgewood group photo from Oliver Rudkin, all others Tasha Marks or taken by me.