Last night, Manchester Art Gallery’s café played host to the premiere of Good Appetite as part of Manchester Jewish Museum’s Festival of Belonging (which runs through to March 14th).
Good Appetite is the first project of its kind in my food practice and involved dabbling away from the comfort of my theatre practice into a collaboration with filmmaker Jonny Randall. I had previously worked with Jonny in my role as a producer of various projects, for which he would create documentation, but this was our first time playing together as artists. It was really fantastic to be able to connect with someone who was clearly up for taking a somewhat ‘socially engaged’ approach to filmmaking.
Indeed, the making of each film involved us visiting three different homes, three different kitchens where I would be taught how to make three different dishes. Although each of the people who welcomed us into their houses for Good Appetite had some connection with the Museum already, they knew little about the project until filming day and so it took a fantastic level of trust to become our participant-collaborators. This is why it was important for me to work with a filmmaker who I knew I could trust, and who had experience of participatory theatre practice. Film is quite a different medium for me (and much longer-lasting than theatre!), and I was interested in how our creative process for each film might mirror the relaxed, conversational and care-fuelled approach I champion with my performance practice.
Each film attempts to capture how the tactile knowledge of our favourite recipes can be passed on or taught. Jonny’s beautiful edit of each of the films focuses closely on hand gestures, body language and offers a subjective – as well as supportive and friendly – look at my developing relationship with each of the people sharing their dishes with me.
As we toasted fragrant cumin and coriander seeds for Filis’ mejadra, diced onions for Lad’s Paprikash or buttered a dish for Katie and Ben’s lokshen kugel conversation soon turned to the personal, often moving and sometimes rather profound reasons for their choice of dishes.
Beyond the much-loved trope of childhood favourites in cookery, each of the three courses I had the privilege to try on filming day, speak of the multitude of ways food enables us to build and share our identities, to invite ourselves into new places, or to welcome others into our culture.
In Good Appetite, the images and the words spoken by each of Filis, Lad, Katy and Ben only gives us a fraction of the experience of how food feels, how food means, how food constructs. This is why we chose that – for the time being – the films would only ever be shared ‘in context’, and with an opportunity to taste the food being presented alongside the viewing.
As such, I hope that what our guests experienced last night was a kind of performance for each and every one of their senses and left them feeling a little closer to one another, at a moment in history where we are advised to keep ourselves apart.
I hope we will be able to present Good Appetite, food and all again soon, and although we will keep the films a secret for now, I think it would be cruel not to at least give you the opportunity to work up your own good appetite by following the three recipes which I was so very generously taught for this project.