As an art historian, I find the artist’s conceptual process to be incredibly intriguing, it lends readability and a deeper understanding to the artwork. In interviews, I am often asked to describe my methods of adapting an artwork into a recipe and truth be told, my approach varies greatly from post to post. There is a general formula I tend to follow and as this blog nears the two-year mark, I decided to share my creative process for the recipe below. In the beginning of each month, I sit down with a calendar and begin combing through my image archives. I try to post a new entry once every five days and so I map out the month, reserving two Mondays to cook and photograph all of the dishes. I queue up artworks that pique my interest and begin listing out the ingredients depicted in each one. As an example, Still Life of Asparagus, pictured below by Nicolas-Henry Jeaurat de Bertry features butter, onion, garlic and white asparagus. After listing the ingredients, I start arranging and rearranging the signature item which ended up being the white asparagus in the recipe below. I tend to start with the recipe title and from the title, work out the ingredient proportions and method of cooking. With the soufflé edged with asparagus, I had a clear picture of how the finish dish should look but was unsure if the recipe would actually work the way I intended. Lucky for me, the soufflé emerged better than I had imagined and the asparagus, when plucked from the soufflé, acted as a vehicle to transport the spongy egg, an aspect I had not anticipated.

Nicolas-Henry Jeaurat de Bertry, Still Life of Asparagus, 18th century
oil on canvas on panel, 25.5 x 36 cm, Private collection

Nicolas-Henry Jeaurat de Bertry established his reputation as an artist via a series of still life paintings reminiscent of those by the master Chardin. De Bertry studied under his uncle, Etienne Jeaurat, and was accepted for membership in the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1756. His kitchen scenes often functioned as elaborate allegories of abundance and Still Life of Asparagus is no exception. The strangely formed dish of butter is overtly phallic, alluding to fertility and abundance. This painting reveals the satirical nature of his work, an aspect that became more pronounced in the portraiture he completed during the French Revolution.

{Soufflé Edged with Asparagus}

Yield: 4 servings

30 stalks of asparagus
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
30 grams unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
4 eggs, separated

Carefully wash the asparagus and trim the tips so that they stick 1-inch above the rim of the ramekin. Preheat the oven to 180C.

In a small pan, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil with the salt for about 5 minutes until soft. Using a hand blender, puree the onions and slowly add the milk. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and add the flour. Immediately begin whisking to form a roux and cook, stirring continuously for 2 minutes. Once the roux begins to brown, add the onion and milk mixture and stir until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. Once cooled slightly, add the four egg yolks and stir until very smooth. Set aside.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer set to medium-high. Beat until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Take a large spoonful of the egg whites and stir into the soufflé mixture. Once incorporated, lightly fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the soufflé mixture into the 4 asparagus-lined ramekins. Place on baking try and slide into oven.

Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the soufflé has risen. Test, insert a skewer into a crack on the side and when removed, should be clean. Serve immediately.