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Dining with Antiques – Dinner with Salvador Dali

by Liz Holderman (08/02/11).

At the age of 6, Salvador Dali wanted to be a cook.

Dali’s “Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder,” 1933. Many of Dali’s works feature food.

“At the age of 6 I wanted to be a cook,” wrote Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali in his 1942 autobiography. “At 7 I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily since.”

Dali (1904-1989) is best known for his symbolic and controversial paintings, his flamboyant, eccentric lifestyle and his iconic mustache. Dali was world-famous during his lifetime because his provocative work was ground-breaking in its quality and imagery. His most-recognized piece is undoubtedly his sensational 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory,” showcasing a scene of melting pocket watches.

And, as he obviously believed at age 6, Dali was first a lover of food. His paintings and sculptures include themes with bread, lamb chops, bacon, boiled beans, figs, pears, fish, eggplant, oranges, eggs, omelets, lobsters, pomegranates, ears of corn and other foods. He filmed a humorous French TV commercial for Lanvin chocolates in 1968 and he designed the Chupa Chups (Spanish lollipops) logo in 1969. He was also a passionate cheese-maker.

Including buyer’s premium, this 7-inch Dali-decorated Suomi bowl sold for €521 ($730) in June 2011.

“Fried Eggs on the Plate without the Plate,” 1932.

In 1976 Dali created the decoration for a 500-piece limited edition of Suomi dinnerware (designed by Timo Sarpaneva and produced by the German porcelain company Rosenthal). The pieces are glazed in brown and gold, with images of stylized birds and figures surrounding a pond. Dali’s bold signature is at the bottom of the scene. The dishes are extremely scarce and can sell at auction for $450 to $750 each.

But Dali’s greatest contribution to fun with food was the publication of his little-known cookbook in 1973, when the artist was 68 years old. “Les Diners de Gala” includes recipes by his wife, Gala, and recipes from Dali’s favorite Paris restaurants (such as Maxim’s, Lasserre and La Tour d’Argent). The book is dedicated to Gala and is wrapped in a foil dust jacket featuring her image. Best of all, it is lavishly filled with Dali’s surreal illustrations (created in 1971), including 12 color lithographs. Most of the 136 recipes (in 324 pages) are elaborate and difficult—some are even bizarre and outrageous. But how could a creation by Dali be any other way? There are veal cutlets stuffed with snails, frogs in pastry, a prawn parfait, potted duck with olives, a dome of steamed crayfish, avocado toast and even aphrodisiacs. Signed copies of the book in fine condition can be pricey, but unsigned copies in lesser condition can also be found for $150 to $350.

This autographed copy of Dali’s 1973 cookbook, “Les Diners de Gala,” in fine condition sold for $1,960 (including buyer’s premium) in June 2008.

One of the 12 lithograph illustration from “Les Diners de Gala,” 1971

At a special event this past May, the Sea Change Restaurant and Bar in Minneapolis presented a five-course meal from Dali’s cookbook, including oysters in brown butter vinaigrette, roasted lamb and banana cream pie. With the same idea, Dali fans sometimes get together for a surreal evening to cook some of his favorite recipes. It is probably asking too much to expect to serve those meals in Dali’s Suomi dinnerware (very lucky collectors might own only one or two pieces). But that doesn’t really matter, because online stores are full of inexpensive Dali posters and prints, as well as Dali-themed aprons, napkin holders, plates, clocks, light-switch covers, trivets, coasters, coffee mugs, wall calendars and shopping bags. So it’s easy to decorate for a party. And Bamako Soup is one of Gala’s fascinating recipes that will feed a crowd of six. It is great served with crusty bread and hearty red wine. Clarifications are shown in parentheses.

Bamako Soup
From “Les Diners de Gala,” compiled by Salvador Dali, 1973

2 tablespoons of oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 lb. of onions
2 ½ lbs. of round steak (plus 6 pieces of beef short ribs)
1 marrow-bone
2 quarts of water
2 beef bouillon cubes
4 cloves
3 teaspoons of ginger
10 oz. of calf’s lungs
10 oz. of minced pork meat
1 lb. of chick peas
1 lb. of carrots
1 lb. of turnips
1 bunch of leeks
1 green cabbage
6 eggs
2 small red peppers (dried chili peppers)
6 tablespoons semolina

Dali’s “Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon,” 1941.

“Here is a dish which is in itself a perfect meal and has its place in the center of a circle of friends. In a very big pot, fry the onions in oil and butter until they are nice and golden. Remove the onions and use the same fat to brown the round steak and the ribs. When the meats are golden brown and crisp, put back the onions and add the water, marrow-bone, bouillon cubes, ground cloves and ginger. When it begins to boil, skim off the fat and simmer on low flame for 5 hours. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

“After 2 hours, add to the broth six meat balls made with a mixture of calf’s lungs and minced pork meat. Then add the chick peas. After the third hour, add the diced vegetables (carrots and turnips). The bunch of leeks and the cabbage go in without being cut. After the fifth hour, remove meats and vegetables, and keep them warm. Poach the eggs in the broth for five minutes, and out them, one by one, on the meats, keeping everything warm. After skimming off the fat, separate the broth into two equal parts. In the first half, crush the red peppers. Keep it warm. In the second half, throw in the semolina to thicken the broth. Boil for a few minutes.

“In each plate pour the semolina (and) then arrange a few vegetables, a piece of each type of meat, a meat ball and a slice of marrow on the poached egg. As to the broth that has been spiced with the red pepper, pour it into 6 bowls. Each bowl is put next to a plate so that, from time to time, your guests will be able to take a sip of this explosive mixture.

NOTE: Gala’s recipe uses meatballs prepared with 2 kinds of meats and no other (stated) ingredients. They do not hold together in 3 hours of simmering. Add a cohesive filler (bread crumbs and beaten egg), brown them first (with the round steak and ribs), and then add them in the last half hour. Calf’s lungs are part of the entrails of the calf, sometimes referred to as offal. We can be squeamish about them in the United States, but they are considered a delicacy in many cultures. Lungs may be hard to find so you can substitute ground veal.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books. “Dining with Antiques” is an ongoing feature in which she highlights collectible dinnerware and food-related antiques, along with vintage recipes..

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