With a big table set for 16 and the lights dimmed, it was an intimate experience. Over four courses and four hours, four people shared a food memory from their own life, while performance artist and chef Jasmine Creusson (formerly of Birch) prepared dishes inspired by the stories, accompanied by video, soundscapes and immersive elements.
There was real brilliance in the opening act. Images of woodlands were projected onto three walls of the space, with the sounds of birds and the wind rustling in the leaves of tall trees. In the video, a man collected blackberries, and little bowls of them were passed around the table, sharp on our tongues as we continued to watch.
The unseen narrator, Alex Hebden, talked frankly about how his love of the woods had been a companion during his childhood, and about a time he had gone out into the forest with a friend following his father’s sudden death and made bread. “We didn’t talk about my dad; we didn’t talk about my future. I realised I felt at home. I had broken bread with myself for the first time.”
As if stepping from the video, Alex was suddenly in the room, serving us deliciously warm crusty rolls with foraged wild garlic butter to accompany.
The second course – “an homage to the pea”, as Creusson put it – didn’t quite hit the same notes, as her own storytelling was a little less confident than her food. She prepared the dish front of us with a flourish, building the elements with precision and concentration, but this distraction prevented her from spinning a good yarn at the same time.
Cakes made with pea flour and capped with pea puree like a Victoria Sponge were innovative and brave, but it felt like an immersive step too far to serve the dish in a thin pea broth, made acidic with a harsh squeeze of lemon, when accompanied by a story about projectile vomiting peas across a school cafeteria.
However, the third course offered a glimpse of Creusson’s real skill in the kitchen. A story told by Jazlyn Pinckney, of bring in the back of her parents’ car in America as a little girl, eating the shredded lettuce left in the bottom of the paper Taco Bell bag, became us all reaching into an enormous sack of lettuce to fill our own tacos.
While the traditional elements of a DIY taco dinner were all laid out on the big table to share like a family, Creusson had also created deconstructed tacos: huge cornucopia-like spirals, stuffed with cheese and aubergine and salsa. They were utterly delicious but impossible to eat – two-handed jobs that led to orange sauce leaking down chins and fingers, and lots of laughter amongst the guests.
The immersive magic returned – we could imagine ourselves sitting on plastic lawn chairs with Jazlyn’s family as we saw them in the projected video, stuffing tacos and fighting for the last bit of guacamole.
The final dessert course was a real bit of fun and imagination: Thomas Williams’ story of his hapless dad preparing a towering plate of nothing but beans for tea one night when his mum was away elicited howls of laughter around the table.
The dish that was served looked like beans on toast in every way, and it was a truly puzzling experience to scoop up some of the sauce and taste chocolate and orange. The almond paste beans were even the same consistency as haricot, and the spelt cake ‘toast’ looked just the part.
The dessert was sickly sweet, and the only plate of the night that no one around the table finished, but it didn’t matter: it was a brave choice that prevented the experience from taking itself too seriously.
As a first attempt at this novel concept, Jasmine Creusson did an excellent job of keeping her diners happy, entertained and well-fed. The night was full of ideas just waiting to be refined and distilled into something slick and truly impressive.
With more performances of FOUR will come more stories, more dishes and more inventive cooking from this boundary-pushing chef, who seems to have found her niche at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio.
Watershed’s food and drink week runs from August 7-12 2017. For more information: www.watershed.co.uk/whatson/season/409/watershed-food-drink-week