Joshua Abrams, 5 February 2015

London Theatre Seminar
Thursday, 5 February 2015, 6.30-8.30pm
Senate House, Room 349 (third floor)

Joshua Abrams (University of Roehampton), ‘A Feast for the Eyes: The Performance of Visuality in the Contemporary Restaurant’

In this presentation, I explore the role of sight within the theatricalized performance of the contemporary restaurant encounter.  Beginning from Brechtian aesthetics in relation to the practice of cooking, I attempt to reframe Brecht’s derogatory term, ‘culinary theatre’.  I begin at the level of the plate itself, exploring what I have elsewhere termed ‘Mise-en-Plate’ (Abrams, Performance Research, 2012) and posing questions about changing styles of presentation. Looking specifically at the increased presence of mimetic foods in high-end gastronomy over the past twenty-five years alongside a more recent emphasis on the ‘natural’, foraged and forgotten bounty, and a shift in presentation styles as restaurants globally have begun to showcase the local landscape literally on the plate, I argue that contemporary chefs seek to redraw human relationships with the ecosystem. As food practices are critiqued for their distancing effect, these culinary performances seek to force our attention back to political and ethical practices.  I turn back to notions of visual estrangement to explore how the contemporary chef may seek to provoke and challenge the diner, producing new challenges and modes of political engagement through the employment of theatrical technique.

Joshua Abrams is Principal Lecturer and Research Degrees Convenor in the Department of Drama, Theatre, and Performance at the University of Roehampton  as well as co-director of Roehampton’s interdisciplinary Food Studies Research Group. He is currently completing a book about the restaurant as a as a performance space and has widely published essays around philosophy and performance and food in/as performance.  Josh received a 2013 AHRC CreativeWorks London grant to work with Ben Spalding and Creative Belly, staging a number of meals exploring changing notions of the popular in British cuisine. He was Co-Organiser of the AHRC-funded Memory Banq-uet symposium as part of the Being Human Festival in 2014. Later this year, he is doing keynotes at both the Fluid States: Solid Food conference in June in Copenhagen, discussing the boundaries of “New Nordicness”  and the Worlds of Flavor Conference at the Culinary Institute of America, where he will be speaking on “Asia and the Theatre of World Menus.”