There are a few film directors who inspire me more than Sergei Paradjanov. The Soviet-Georgian-Armenian artist was a unique voice in the world of cinema who’s unparalleled exuberant style remains a huge influence long after his death. The explosive abundant visuals of his masterpiece ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’ have lured me ever since I saw the film for the first time some 10 years ago and, revisiting the film on regular basis ever since, I never fail to uncover something new. Having studied Paradjanov as a film student and co-organised the largest festival of his work in the UK back in 2009, I have explored (obsessively) every still from the film as well as each and every of his collages and photographs. His symbolic presence in my life has always spurred me on to be more creative with my own work yet I have never had the occasion to really put into practise all that I have absorbed over the years. That is until recently…
When one of your closest friends happens to write a stunning cookbook dedicated to Caucasus, you know now is the time for that crazy Paradjanov event you’ve always been dreaming of! And what can be better than the fact that your friend (I am sure you have guessed by now that I am taking about the beautiful Olia Hercules) happens to be a fellow Paradjanov aficionado and totally ‘digs’ what I want to say and achieve with the event. As soon as Olia sent me her notes after re-viewing the film through a KinoVino prism, I knew we are going to make something very special together (the fact that we have already produce two stunning KV gatherings over the last couple of years also helps, of course).
We both knew that we wanted the food to be the artwork on the blanc canvas of the table. Olia’s menu echoed the imagery from the film and entered in dialogue with its themes and motifs. We left our menu deliberately obscure and poetic, so all our guests knew as they sat down to the table was the they were about to have: ‘Lavash. Earth. Salt’; ‘Creature of the Sea’; ‘A Beast with Pomegranates’ and ‘Celestial Peaches’. Perhaps this is a bit too wacky, but I am sure Paradjanov would have loved it this way. What the cryptic menu translated to was: ‘Caucasian bread with edible soil, tkemali beetroots and fermented baby aubergines’, ‘Pollack with walnut sauce, a spicy adjika relish, crispy shallots and micro herbs’, ‘Pulled lamb with herbs and pomegranates’ and ‘poached peaches, floating island, creme anglaise with a shard of apricot leather’.
When you have a menu that is so unique and characterful, what do you do to set the right mood and how do you select the decor that does not overpower the food, nor overwhelms your guests. The easiest choice to make was the music – Georgian polyphonic singing is probably the most stunning human-made sonic creation that never fails to give me goosebumps. So that was the soundtrack of choice, played at a very gentle volume. For the lighting I decided to bypass the ever-present festoon lights instead dimming the light slightly with a few soft spotlights here and there. May be I am being a bit too poetic here, but the quality of the light in our space really reminded me of a warm sunset, which was exactly what we needed. Translating the magnificent world of Paradjanov is a challenge especially when you need to do it on a budget. So instead of going into a full on ‘recreation’ mode (which I think is a bit gimmicky and hence tacky), Olia and I chose several motifs from the film – feathers, apricots, clay vessels, flowers blooming from dry branches and well, of course, pomegranates. While I usually create two long tables with a uniform style running across them all, this time we had to set up 6 individual tables (namely as the event was oversold like crazy!) and I wanted to give each an original touch. So instead of creating one tablescape, why not create six! There was a sense of homelike cosiness in those seemingly different tables each echoing a certain motif of the film – the stripy fabric, that was used as a table runner as well as drapes over the windows, was inspired by one of the most striking dresses worn by the main character, while the stunning floral installations by WORM LONDON different on each table created a link to various visual motifs. Adding a bit of wackiness to the tablescape and giving my guests something to connect over as soon as they sat down, I have tied all of the napkins together with a red thread – not only did it stand out from the white tablecloth running across the perimeter of the table, but it created a symbolic link between each diner, a sort of a blood vessel connecting us all. The neat white space of the Calvert gallery created the perfect canvas for us to paint on, so my favourite part was a wave of feathers that ran all across the main wall and over some columns, creating a dynamic strike across the space, akin to the flock of birds in the sky.
I always wonder how much of these details guests actually pick up on. But perhaps it does not matter that much, as I genuinely believe that the creative energy that goes into setting up the space creates the perfect setting in which our diners have a relaxed, cosy and joyous time. And that’s what really matters to me the most. I have to say that all of Olia’s KinoVino gatherings never fail to create that magical festive energy, where people keep eating and drinking past the official end hour of the event. So in a very ‘Like water for chocolate’ manner I feel that it is Olia’s beautiful personalty and passion for food that are the secret ingredients to a successful dinner party. And if I manage to enhance this experience be creating the right setting – well, that’s my mission accomplished!