- CHAMP CULINARY FEATURE -
OTIS.BRUTAL by OTIS.ARMADA
7-22 May, 2016
Clifton Hill, Melbourne, Australia
Otis.Brutal, the latest experiential dining event by Otis.Armada, recently took place in Melbourne’s Clifton Hill Brutalist Building,
cooinciding with Assemble Papers’ Brutalist Block Party in the same location.
Otis.Armada founder Gus Carmichael, along with Laura Clauscen, Lauren Stephens and Fred Mora (Practise Studio Practise, Lucky Prawn), paired with executive chef Ali Currey-Voumard (from Cumulus Inc, Moon Under Water) created the sold-out dining experience, that looked at the event as a whole with every element carefully curated and coordinated, and conceptually interrelated.
Finding inspiration in ‘Futurists Cookbook’ (Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso – 28 August 1930) and Rothschild’s surrealist dinner parties to create the Brutalist-inspired setting, the team also ensured also to work with all-local and equally forward-thinking creatives, such as uniforms by Birkenstock, Freitag and Ru Kwok / Georgia Fraser and considerate meat from Troy Wheelan.
Otis.Brutal was perhaps the only one of it’s kind. A completely experiential dinner service with selected music accompanying each course, created by various artists and played their bespoke recording with each sitting, one section was live. The use of prescribed doses of music as surprise ingredients aimed to accentuate the flavours of a given dish with sensual intensity and audible fervour. For this they enlisted Alex Albrecht for Hors D’oeuvres, A.r.t Wilson during bread service, Francis Inferno Orchestra through the wet course, Tamil Rogeon for the unveiling of the pig, sweet Wush overseeing the pudding and Gregor and Elliot hosting digestives.
Photographer Ben Clement captured one of the Otis.Brutal evenings, while Champ Editor Joanna sat down with Chef Ali Currey-Voumard and Practise Studio Practise’s Frederick Mora for a further insight into their recent truly experiential and multi-dimensional dinner service, Otis.Brutal.
Joanna: Firstly, how did you approach the theme for Otis.Brutal?
What were some particular ingredients you were excited to introduce and use?
Ali: Brutalism as an architectural concept is a celebration of the unpretentious and the overlooked. I was excited to introduce some under utilised and unfavoured ingredients into the menu, to help people fall in love with them – things like chicken hearts and thyme, past seasons tomatoes, humble cabbages and swathes of uni butter were all at the forefront. The etymology of Brutalism refers to Béton Brut meaning raw concrete, so I did a take on a raw master: steak tartare! The Otis Brutal version featured fermented tomatoes, raw beef and basil cream. It goes without saying that garnishes were omitted and fiddly food left by the wayside.
Ali: The booze selection was of a similar persuasion. Matched wines were natural style, minimal intervention wines. In the same way a brutalist building needn’t sacrifice function for style; superfluous preservatives were omitted from the wines leaving the rawest, most uninterrupted version of that wine. My highlight was a Le Pelut cider which was rich, dewy and sweet mixed in the glass with Francois Blanchard’s “Le Grande Clere” which was bone dry and begging for sugar. We served it alongside wood roasted apples and cardamom custard, Brutal joy!
Was there particular Brutalist inspiration you were channeling in preparation for Otis.Brutal?
Ali: As with all Otis events we all go through this stage together. With the creative team, we mapped out some crucial rules for A Brutalist Being, how would they eat? what would this look like and what matters the most? We studied concrete facades and dusted off our Futurists Cookbook (Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso – 28 August 1930) and looked to Rothschild’s surrealist dinner parties. I found most brutalist structures to be quite strongly stark and everything seemed to perform a function. I tried to translate that into the food – nothing on the plate that didn’t serve a purpose, each element crucial in its taste and rigid in its quantity.
How did you approach the courses and select in what order guests would experience the food and wine?
Ali: The event commences in an utterly structured way. First our guests, all lined up in rows like good little brutalist pupils, are delivered a prison tray of cold snacks (think a Brutalists lunch box, cold meats, jelly, crisp breads and butter). The floor staff brilliantly act as wardens of Brute ensuring everyone is cared for in a purely necessary way, with firm attention and directness. As they settle into their snacks a procession of grilled chicken hearts with thyme is delivered onto each tray. From there we delve into our raw wet course followed by the crux of the dinner… The Pig! To a crescendo of classical music The Pig is carved up, center stage and omitted straight onto the plate followed by a procession of chefs who add hearty sides. Digestion is then aided with hand made cheese, custard, coffee and nuanced music.
What were some of the reactions from guests from any of the dishes?
Frederick Mora: The best part is seeing how people digest every single element. Its really rewarding. With each batch of Brutalists they enjoy different elements. We learn with them what works. I think people are really refreshed by the event, the way we approach food is completely unprecedented. We hope to abandon the pretence and pomp that surrounds forward thinking eating. Our mission is to create a setting which hopes to lubricate free and unrestrained feasting. When people pay for for dinner now they aren’t just paying for food, they are looking for an experience that is unmatched. We cook up the whole thing from scratch, from location, to tableware, to uniforms to wine. We look at the event as a whole, every element is conceptually interrelated. So far it’s all being devoured!
What are some common misconceptions in dining culture? Visual presentation, or expectant sweetness in meals?
Ali: I think people forget sometime that the way something tastes should always be number one. You see a lot of extremely flamboyant presentation, which looks incredible, but sometimes lacks a depth of flavour or textures. I think it’s almost expected now, especially in fine dining, that you should be blown away by incredible hand made plates or meticulously placed garnishes. I tried to do away with that for Otis. Brutal. Keep plating succinct and logical, and allow the deliciousness to be the star.
Where did your passion and understanding for raw ingredients and fermentation come from?
Ali: The passion came from the same place as most young chefs I think. I read a Sandor Katz book a few years back and was blown away by this whole new world which I didn’t know existed. It’s so excited to see flavours transform using such simple techniques. And to be able to preserve a season’s bounty of vegetables whilst keeping the integrity of the original flavour is a beautiful thing, not to mention the medicinal properties of fermented foods.
Ali: As for understanding, I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I’ve made plenty of things that have just been an absolute disaster, but then I’ve come back to them four months later and they’ve completely changed. Uncertainty is a brilliant motivation. The less i know the more rewarding the successes and processes are.
Moving from Tasmania to Melbourne – what have been some of the local or seasonal ingredients found back home in the colder region of Tasmania that you’ve brought into some of your dishes in Melbourne?
Ali: It’s not so much the ingredients that I’ve brought over as much as the respect for seasonality and agrarian lifestyle. I know people back home who cook purely from the land surrounding them and are doing some really excellent things. It invigorates me to speak to smaller scale producers or foragers around Melbourne to get a better idea of all the amazing things Victoria has to offer.
Personally, who currently inspires you in the culinary world that is breaking ground in food and dining understanding?
Ali: Personally Josh Murphy (Builders Arms Hotel, Moon Under Water) has been a constant inspiration in terms of flavour development and showing love and modesty when approaching cooking. There are heaps of other people too which id love to mention but they know who they are. I do think though that sometimes the best place to look for inspiration is outside the field you practice in.
Fred: One of the most rewarding parts about Otis is that it engages people outside of the culinary world and invites them in. With each Otis event we collude with a troupe of forward thinking creative practitioners each and everyone inspires the process. To mention but a few: Textile and wearable contributions are an assemblage of Birkenstock, Freitag and Ru Kwok / Georgia Fraser, filmic reprise via Coco & Maximilian, functional folly from Dale Hardiman, cocoa programing by Hunted + Gathered, wine prescriptions by Campbell Burton, untarnished coffee care of Bureax Collective and considerate meat from Troy Wheelan. Our ploy is to develop relationships with a gamut of distractors who will ultimately enhance the feast. Together we create new understandings of food and dining as we go.
Your future projects this year?
Fred: We have always got plans for Otis in the oven. We have been planning an Otis Fast Food event which sings like a Mcdonalds, swings like a KFC but features carefully thought out food and wine. We like to create unlikely matches, so a fast food, slow food event would be great, but the idea isn’t fully cooked yet.
Ali: As for my other projects they are still bubbling about but stay posted.
All photography © Ben Clement