Questions of Taste: Steve Plotnicki

Port talks to Steve Plotnicki on his hip-hop past, fine-dining and reframing food as art

In 1986, Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell launched their debut album Run-D.M.C. with Profile Records, becoming one of the most influential hip-hop groups in music history. In 1998, Robot Wars garnered a prime time spot on British television, with records of 6 million viewers, eventually broadcasted worldwide. One could say – Steve Plotnicki – co-founder of Profile Records which subsequently bought the rights to Robot Wars in 1994, is a prescient man. In 2007, the entertainment mogul launched himself into yet another venture, turning his passion for food into a new business – Opinionated About Dining (OAD) – a food blog and online survey of the best restaurants in the world.

The only online survey to use an algorithm, based on the quantity and quality of the votes of each of its 5,000 members – a diverse group of chefs, restaurateurs, bloggers, critics and anyone with an opinion to share – OAD is a democratisation of the food industry, providing a public platform from which to share fine-dining, gourmet and cheap eat lists across Northern America, Europe and Japan. This May 2019, OAD hosts its annual awards event, held in San Sebastián, with two dinners at the Basque Culinary Centre and the Hotel Maria Christina, respectively celebrating OAD’s 11 New to The List Chefs and the Top 100+ Restaurants

We spoke to Plotnicki about his ‘democratisation’ of the food industry, traditional and modern cuisine, as well as his hopes for a new culinary language rivalling the objectivity and precision of the art world. 

OAD is, above all else, a democratisation of the food industry – the large voter pool comprising of people from all walks of life. What was it that sparked the initial idea behind it? 

I was unhappy with the other rating systems and guides at the time. Michelin was a little too slow to react to the market, especially when restaurants were on a downward trend. Zagat was too populist and 50 Best limited the number of restaurants that were covered so I tried to come up with a solution that would solve these problems.

Behind the diverse pool of voters and consistent reviewing panel, there is also an algorithm. Can you expand a little on how it works?

Each reviewer is assigned a weight based on the quantity and quality of reviews they have submitted.

What does the reviewing panel focus on?

Most of the top reviewers have a routine they follow where they visit Europe & Asia at least twice a year and to the U.S. at least once a year. The top reviewers visit between 75-150 important restaurants per year.

Experience is a key element in OAD’s rating system. How has your previous work in the entertainment industry influenced OAD?

I think the weekly charts in music trade magazines and the way the various recordings moved around from week to week had an influence on how I organised the OAD lists.

You foresaw the evolution of Hip-hop when you produced Run-DMC’s first album in 1984, as well as the potential of Robot Wars in the 90s, making it onto prime time British T.V in 1998. Would you say you have an eye for future trends?

Thanks for the compliment. I always worry that I am going to become too old to be able to identify the next big thing.

You have described your relationship to food as similar to your relationship with art. Can you expand a little?

One of my goals is to see the culinary world adopt a language that is similar to, and as precise as, the language used for art, architecture and film. More objectivity and less of a focus on how the consumer feels about the cuisine.

This year the theme for the OAD gala dinner is La Noche Del Asador, inviting some of the top asadors on the OAD European Heritage list to set up grills on the terrace of the Maria Cristina. Previous themes include Haute Tapas in Barcelona, Nordic Barbecue in Copenhagen, Grandmother’s cooking in Paris and The Great Roast in London. How important do you think tradition and locale are to great food?

My first goal is to always give the guests a one of a kind experience that they can’t get anywhere else. So I try to incorporate the location the event is being held in, into the theme. It made sense to me to show traditional asador cooking with dishes from molecular restaurants on a continuum.

The restaurant industry has undergone a shift towards more accessible and casual dining in recent years – reflected in the OAD’s Cheap Eats and Gourmet Casual lists. Can we expect any new lists from OAD in the near future?

No more lists! Seriously, I think a list for Australia and South America are in the offering within the next few years. Other than that nothing else.

You have dined at some of the finest restaurants all over the world. Is there any particular place that stands out for you?

I will never turn down an invitation to Arpège in Paris or Ogata in Kyoto.

The OAD annual award events are held in San Sebastián from 19th- 20th May 2019. Tickets are available here

Horse Play

Over the past 200 years, Hermès has grown from an equine accessories company to be an icon of savoir-faire and luxury, but the company has not forgotten its roots, as Susanne Madsen discovers at an annual celebration of saddles, show jumping and sport horses in Paris

Serenity and adrenaline in the Grand Palais arena, where riders tackle vertical fences, walls and wide-set jumps known as oxers

The annual Saut Hermès in Paris sets the bar high for showjumping competitions: at 1.60 metres, for the grand prix showpiece finale, to be precise. Here, the world’s most talented riders glide over fences held by stands that form a Hermèsian ‘H’, on a course laid out under the vast glass nave of the Grand Palais, the smell of sawdust and horse filling the air. Winners parade in orange blankets to cool down, there’s a pony riding area for children; Shetlands, in matching ginger hues, and spectators can browse an immaculately curated equestrian bookshop. Like everything in the French maison, it’s all just-so but not too much.

“The Saut is special,” notes Simon Delestre. The French showjumper, Olympian and Hermès partner rider has just finished his morning warm-up and is sitting backstage, where, just off the Champs-Élysées, stables have been erected and an orange carpet rolled out for the four-legged superstars. Across a manicured lawn, Delestre’s top mount, Hermès Ryan, is relaxing ahead of the competition. A strapping chestnut gelding with astronomical prize winnings to his name, Ryan, of course, wears head-to-toe Hermès, from his crochet fly veil to the bespoke saddle.

Detail of an Hermès bridle

There’s an old saying ‘No foot, no horse’, to denote the importance of healthy hooves, but similarly, you could say ‘No saddle, no jumping’. A saddle is a crucial and required instrument, not least for showjumpers who have to jump with their mount by standing up in stirrups, allowing their horse to properly use its back and helping it sail effortlessly over massive fences.

Having the wrong saddle is akin to doing an Ironman in shoes three sizes too small. The right saddle is the difference between playing a Chopin nocturne well, and playing it exquisitely. Both horse and rider need to be comfortable so their bodies can work as one.

Master saddler Laurent Goblet with a prototype jump saddle

“The saddle is really the interface between the horse and the rider,” explains Laurent Goblet, master saddler at Hermès. “I want to make that interface disappear… for there to be no constraint, basically. And it should be well made so it’s long lasting, and pleasant to look at: It gives that additional element to the function.”

Under the roof of 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the Hermès saddlery team work in rooms flooded by sunlight, crafting some 500 saddles a year in black, Havana or natural calf leather, cowhide and buffalo. A long running joke at the house – founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, who originally made horse harnesses for carriages – is that the horse was the company’s first customer. It remains a regular if rather demanding client.

Simon Delestre atop the 12-year-old gelding, Sultan de Beaufour

Each saddle is made by only one saddler. “The fact that you’re making it from beginning to end is very gratifying. And it makes the craftsman responsible for his work. When you finish a piece you’re happy. It’s like a baby,” muses artisan saddler Vincent Leopold with a chuckle. Centuries-old techniques, such as the use of tapestry nails instead of staples and cotton canvas straps inside the seat, are still used alongside the state-of-the-art: carbon fibre saddletrees, the ‘skeleton’ of the saddle, which at Hermès is sized for each individual horse using a tool that gives hundreds of measurements to replicate the horse’s back.

“Before, 40 or 50 years ago, if the saddle didn’t hurt the horse, fine – it was up to the rider to know how to ride well. Now, more and more, it has become about ergonomics, for horse and rider,” Goblet notes, his office packed to the rafters with the saddletree prototypes that he crafts himself. For 40 years he has been in pursuit of the perfect saddle.

“Based on the previous model we learn the shortcomings. But you also have to be careful when you remove something, that it doesn’t change the good parts. It’s a very holistic process.”

Inside the Hermès atelier on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

True to the timeless yet unconventional spirit of the house, he might add a bold red stitch to a dressage saddle, to trace the outline of the leg – as he did with the Arpège, developed in collaboration with top German dressage rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl. “In the design, I include the function. I don’t do design for the sake of design.” His work on a saddle for dressage – the discipline that involves ‘dancing’ with the horse – may now even inspire a hitherto unseen jump saddle. “I love dressage because I learned a lot. It’s a complicated discipline.” The saddle, he says, will be the result of 40 years of work and reflection.

Alexandra Paillot and her horse Tonio la Goutelle wearing a coveted orange cooling blanket and rosette
for third place in the Prix du Grand Palais class

“I’m a saddler but I’m also an artisan. That’s the magic, when you can actually make something that is artistic and beautiful and at the same time high-tech. If you have these elements you can make miracles,” he smiles. On his wall are pictures of a young Goblet riding racehorses. “I was born in Chantilly, and Chantilly is the city of racehorses in France.” His love for horses, coupled with “the desire to work by hand, to work with leather”, led him to a career as a saddler, coming to Hermès as an apprentice. “And soon I’ll be retiring!”

Riders can choose from different models, which can then be customised further: the angle one’s leg sits at, padding or no knee padding, foams for seat firmness, a flat or curved seat. For an average saddle, 40 pieces are assembled using the original Hermès saddle-stitch, which also adorns bags and accessories – a technique done by hand, requiring two needles that lock a thread by working in opposite directions, giving unmatched solidity. It’s a process that can take anywhere between 25 and 60 hours to complete, depending on the client’s requests. In true artisan spirit, Leopold’s favourite saddle is the one that involves the most steps to complete: the Oxer.

Pole for the jump fences, which, at the Saut Hermès, reach 1.6 metres for the competition’s top classes

He pulls out a leather-bound book dated 1927 to 1937 from a glass cabinet that holds journals containing details of every order placed with Hermès saddlers since 1909. “The number of the saddle, the name of the customer, the measurements of the saddle and the materials used – it’s all here. Every week I use it for repairs after sales, to remake a customer’s favourite saddle from the 1950s or simply for a customer who may have got a saddle from his family and wants to know about it. In two minutes, we can find the information.” Recently, the team repaired a side-saddle from 1929, changing only safety-related pieces such as straps. The saddle itself was still in beautiful condition.

It takes two to three years before a saddler can work independently on the different house models. The hand-stretched calfskin across the seat is especially tricky. “The feeling, the touch is vital – it’s difficult to explain when it’s too tense or if it’s not stretched enough. It takes a lot of practice,” Leopold says, noting that it becomes almost intuitive.

Morocco’s Abdelkebir Ouaddar, who won the Grand Prix Hermès trophy in 2016

It’s a sentiment echoed by Delestre when he speaks about jumping. “You have to have the feeling with horses,” he reflects. “When you are skilled, and your technique is OK, it’s the feeling that makes the difference.”

For Delestre, this always means putting the horse first. If, using his experience and intimate connection with his mount, he senses that something is off during a morning warm up, but no one else can find anything wrong “you don’t jump, because something bad will happen. That makes all the difference between jumping one round and jumping for six years.” As if on cue, a horse somewhere kicks out loudly at the stable wall. “It’s not mine,” he says, with a relieved smile. “It doesn’t break my heart directly.”

A traditional button-plaited mane

Equestrian sport, like high fashion, may seem like a leisure class pursuit for the privileged few, but it is also a blood, sweat and tears affair. “For us, horses are a way of life,” Delestre says. “We go from show to show, we live with them every day, every hour, and we have to be wary of everything, because, with horses, every morning and every night, something will go wrong. That’s life with horses.”

Delestre rides in the Caval, a saddle he developed with Laurent Goblet’s expertise which allows him to be very close to the horse and have his leg quite fixed. “It’s special, what I have with Hermès – it’s a close and honest relationship. We really help each together, to do the best for the horses, but also to always have a view of the future.”

Hermès partner rider Alexandra Paillot

Goblet has seen and facilitated a lot of change throughout his 40-year career. But while the horse’s role has changed from a worker – for war, agriculture, transport – to an athlete, equipped with sporty gear, one thing remains the same: the main material used. “We haven’t found anything better than leather to make saddles. We tried jersey, for example, but leather takes the shape, it fits to the rider. It’s beautiful. It’s not this cold, inanimate material; it’s warm,” he says, playing with a piece of calfskin.

Delestre speaks with the same love about his vocation. “Jumping is different. You can feel the power of the horse – a power that is difficult to conceive of, and with every horse you have a different feeling. You have to make the right choice for the horses. You have to work on a horse six, seven years to bring it to [grand prix] level; so if you take it for one wrong ride, you work for six years and then you can do nothing.”

As a rider, you’re a horse trainer and a bit of an equine psychologist, then? Delestre laughs. “Yeah, we have to think for them. You try to feel how they are, to think how they think, to explain why they have this reaction instead of another one. And when you have the right explanation it becomes easy.”

Hence the crucial role of the right saddle. For horse and rider to feel as one, nothing should complicate their symbiotic relationship, especially when every showjumping course is different – planned by a course designer whose job it is to thoroughly test riders and horses at the level they’re competing. Communication and timing is everything. A rider will take into account distances between fences depending on whether their horse has a big, ground-covering stride or takes smaller steps; if it’s hot-headed, or capable of making very small turns, that will save time.

Goblet’s office, stacked with saddle trees and offcuts

While Delestre and Ryan are clearly in a league of their own as athletes, their attention to detail – from training and care to the bespoke Hermès saddle that brings their bodies and minds together – is a joy to behold. Three days after our conversation, Delestre and Hermès Ryan soar to victory in the grand prix finale among 48 other riders as the first French combination to win the prestigious class. “He’s a big, big fighter – Ryan,” Delestre beams. “He likes the shows. He has an incredible mentality. He’s really a special horse.”

Photography Cian Oba-Smith

This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here.

Port Issue 23

The Autumn/Winter issue of Port – featuring actor Vincent Cassel, Fergus Henderson in the kitchen, and abandoned military infrastructure on the Sussex coast – is available to pre-order now

Actor Vincent Cassel, star of arthouse and multiplex alike, is one of the most distinctive and compelling talents working in cinema now. In a career spanning twenty-five years and counting, he has carved out a niche playing complex, troubled and often sensuous characters in critically acclaimed films such as La Haineand Irreversible, alongside box-office hits including Jason Bourne. Having helped to regalvanise French cinema in the long shadow of the nouvelle vague, and after taking Brazil as an adoptive home, he talks to Port’s George Upton in Paris for the cover story of issue 23 about the journey to where he is today, and the joie de vivre he has found in and outside of his work on the way.

Elsewhere, photographer David La Spinacaptures street life in New York City in an extraordinary exclusive portfolio, introduced by the New York Times Magazine’s Kathy Ryan; 200 years of expertise in saddlery and showmanship is put to the test at the Saut Hermès, Paris; Christopher Turnerprofiles the godfather of modern Italian design, Gio Pontiand photographer Tobias Harvey explores the forgotten secrets of military history, hidden in plain sight on the Suffolk coastline.

Fashion director Dan Mayand photographer Rudi Geyserbring an extended fashion story from Cape Town, South Africa; Rose Fordestyles new season Manolo Blahnik, plus a photo story from Düsseldorf, 1984 and Scott Stephensoncurates the new season collections. 

Commentary comes courtesy of Steve Martin, Will Ashonand Don Morrison, alongside an exploration in translation in which Zadie Smith, Ma Jianand Tash Awtranslate Giuseppe Pontiggia. In The Porter, Fergus Hendersoncooks a warming autumnal blood lunch, Konstantin Grcicremembers an unlikely style icon in Joseph Beuys, Carlotta de Bevilacquatalks light inspiration and Michel Roux Jrcelebrates the humble table crumber. 

Please note, orders will be sent out from 19th October, when the magazine goes on sale

To pre-order Portissue 23, click here


Nicholas Balfe, the founder and head chef of Salon in Brixton, takes Port through a recipe of a foraged herb salad and poached duck egg

Foraging has shot to prominence in recent years with the rise of chefs exploring ancient techniques, ingredients and flavours in their food – but using wild food in cooking is nothing new.

I was introduced to the idea of using wild ingredients by my mum and grandma when I was young. I have vivid memories of picking elder flowers in Dorset and cooking them up in fritters, dusted in icing sugar and served with thick clotted cream.

When I began cooking professionally in my mid-20s, some of the chefs I came into contact with were already using foraged ingredients in their dishes. Back in 2007, the idea of pairing mussels with sea purslane, or pork with fennel pollen and wild herbs seemed mind-bogglingly exotic, yet inherently native at the same time.

When I opened my own restaurant, foraged ingredients became an important part of the food we serve. Being heavily guided by the seasons, it makes sense to look to nature for inspiration. I like to use what’s abundantly available at any given moment, and to source ingredients as locally as possible. If I can pick the ingredients from a local park or hedgerow, then all the better.

There’s no specialist equipment you need to go foraging – just a carrier bag and some rubber gloves if you’re picking nettles. Good foraging etiquette is to never take more than a third of what you see, so there’s some left for the next person, and don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything immediately. Start with one or two types of wild food, keep your eyes peeled, and slowly you’ll build a nice repertoire of things you can pick and use.

Wild herb salad with poached duck egg, pancetta and fennel
Serves four as a light lunch or starter

This recipe is very adaptable, so feel free to add whatever wild herbs or vegetables you come across (or buy in the supermarket, if worst comes to worst).


For the salad

4 handfuls of any of the following: chopped three-cornered garlic, wild leeks, Alexanders leaves, fennel fronds, nettle tips (blanched), wild garlic (blanched), samphire (blanched), sea purslane or sea aster (blanched), wood sorrel

1 bunch of watercress
1 handful chervil
1 handful dill
1 head of fennel, thinly sliced
1 bunch of radishes, thinly sliced
A dozen or so cooked new potatoes (optional) Two thick slices of good quality bread

A clove of garlic
A drizzle of olive oil
4 duck eggs
100g diced pancetta
Sea salt and black pepper

For the dressing

100g crème fraîche
1 dessert spoonful of Dijon mustard
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Handful of nely chopped three-cornered garlic or chives


Pick through the ingredients you’ve foraged to remove twigs, stems, dead leaves and grass. Wash thoroughly and set aside in a large mixing bowl with the watercress, chervil, dill, fennel, radishes and cooked new potatoes.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients and check the seasoning – you might want to add more salt, pepper or lemon juice.

Sauté the pancetta in a drizzle of vegetable oil until nicely crisped. Drain and add to the bowl with the herbs.

Toast the bread, rub with a clove of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and tear into bite-sized pieces. Add to the herb mixture.

To poach the eggs, put a deep pan of water on the stove on a high heat and add a generous slosh of white wine vinegar. Crack the eggs into four separate cups. When the water reaches a rolling boil, swirl it around with a slotted spoon, add the eggs and immediately turn the heat down. Leave to poach for two minutes. Remove from the water and drain on a cloth. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the dressing to the herb mixture and gently toss together until everything is nicely dressed. Season with salt and pepper and divide into four bowls. Top each bowl with a poached egg and serve immediately.

Nicholas Balfe is the founder and head chef of Salon

Photography Suzie Howell

This is an extract from issue 22 of Port. To buy or subscribe, click here.
Port presents the essential outdoor kit for foraging. 

Photo Essay: Fish

Port and still life photographer Giles Revell go under to reveal the beauty beneath the waves

John Dory fish on blotting paper, shot by Giles Revell

John Dory

This extraordinary looking fish, with its quiff-like spiny dorsal fin and miserable face, has the rather grand Latin name Zeus Faber, as it was sacred to the god Zeus. It also carries the Christian name St Peter’s fish, the gold ringed dark spots on either side of its body are supposedly the fingerprints of St Peter, the apostle who pulled the fish out of the Sea of Galilee and plucked a gold coin from his mouth to pay his overdue taxes.

The John Dory is a sophisticated predator, creeping up behind its prey then using its extending mouth to hoover up cuttlefish, small-fin fish and squid. To eat, John Dory could be described as elegant and is considered by many to be the best tasting fish in the sea.

Haddock on blotting paper


Haddock is a close relative of cod, they have a bluish-brown back, silvery flanks, a black curved lateral line and a sensitive chin barbell used for feeling around for food in the dark ocean depths.

They enjoy the cool waters of the North Oceans only coming inshore in summer to feed before going back offshore to breed. To eat, haddock has an ozone-like aroma that encapsulates the salt water from which it is fished; the texture is very lean, spearmint white and soft and it is best cooked with its skin on to enjoy its delicate flavour.

Freshly caught mackerel on blotting paper


A ritzy looking fish with its metallic green-blue sheen scattered with a mass of black scribbles or bars on its back, pale green and purple flanks that sparkle with a myriad of hues. It’s designed for speed, is a highly effective hunter and can live for up to 20 years if it avoids nets and lines.

It’s a fish that repays being eaten very fresh before its rich oil content starts to spoil. The aroma of the fish is reminiscent of fine green seaweed and its predominately pink flesh is succulent with discreet flakes that are almost chicken-like in texture.

Herring on blotting paper


The “silver darling” herring has a rich history in the world of fishing. So important are they that from Britain to Scandinavia, there have been an enormous number of cures created to preserve them. From their head to the deeply forked tail they are predominately silver with a blue-green back, allowing them to melt away into the watery environment when viewed from above.

Herrings are rich in oil content and are perfect for smoking after a spring and summer of feeding, which makes them lusciously plump. These wonderful oils add to the saltiness of their flavour and the skin adds a light seawater character and the flesh, a slight white peppery spiciness.

Salmon Heads on blotting paper


Atlantic salmon is one of the most popular eating species, probably because it farms so well. These fish are extraordinary as they are able to return to the river where they were born with pinpoint accuracy years after they went to sea, and it’s believed that a number of navigation aids, including the stars, differences in the Earths magnetic fields and ocean currents, guide them.

Once they get close off the coast, salmon literally smell their way home, guided by a chemical memory of what their river smelled and tasted like. There is no mistaking its rich savoury flavour with its high and satisfying oil content.

Photography Giles Revell
Photography assistant Tristan Thomson

Food Photography Over the Years

Jo Ann Callis, Black Table Cloth, 1979
Spanning fine art, fashion and advertising, the author of Feast for the Eyes discusses the rich history of food photography through the lens of five influential images 
The first-ever photograph of food was taken in 1827 by photography pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, who captured a set table within a ten-hour exposure time using a camera obscura, commonly referred to as a pinhole camera. Over the last two centuries, food photography has continued to evolve. Since the emergence of digital cameras in the 1980s and the internet in the 1990s, it has remained a focus in photography, although rarely has it been recognised as an important subject. Meanwhile, the rise of social media and blogging culture has meant that food is in fact being photographed more than ever. 
In response to this, writer and independent curator Susan Bright’s book Feast for the Eyes is the first publication to explore food photography’s significant history. Bright’s book traces the development of the genre and celebrates photographers who have played a critical role in conveying ideas that go far beyond the food they have captured. Irving Penn, Stephen Shore, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Martin Parr are just a few names featured. “We understand what it means to photograph food more than ever before,” she explains. “It’s never just about the food, it’s about everything else. It’s about the person, always. Food is a symbol.”
Here, Bright discusses five photographs from Feast for the Eyes taken between 1947 and 2008.
Victor Keppler, (General Mills advertising campaign—Apple Pyequick), 1947
“Keppler was amazing at advertising and colour photography. This image is made up of only four colours but it is instantly recognisable as apple pie. He was so good at paring down colours in advertisements. It is very American and nationalistic; nothing is more American than apple pie. It is about the atomic age of American shortcuts which we can understand immediately. I think it is complete genius, using photography to short circuit the brain.”
Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957
“This photograph is just fantastic. Edgerton was a scientist and would claim he was never an artist, but there is a joy to this photograph. There is a mixture of science, art, wonderment and entertainment. I’ve seen this picture a million times and I still go: ‘wow’. We tend to look at the history of art through art photography but it was in science and commercial photography where huge innovations were being made.”
Jo Ann Callis, Black Table Cloth, 1979
“This is a very puzzling image, you’re not sure where you are.  It’s not a diner, it’s not a home; it feels very curious. We question why there is an empty bowl and strawberries in milk. There is something illicit and cinematic about Callis’ work, a tenseness and obsessiveness about it that I really like. Her use of colour is extraordinary.”
Martin Parr, Untitled (Hot Dog Stand), 1983–85
“There is a tenderness to Parr’s images of Britain, but this photograph is quite humorous. The Last Resort was his strongest body of work for me, where he manages to smash through certain British stereotypes as well as rely on them. It was really important to show the idea of the ritual, whether it be a birthday party or going to the cinema and having popcorn, or going to the beach and getting a hotdog.”
Tim Walker, Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes, 2008
“Tim Walker manages to tap into the childlike quality in us. When you see a Tim Walker photograph you just know its him because he pushes fantasy further than anyone would in a very sweet way. It’s completely fantastical and joyful. He includes food in his photographs because it adds another layer of fantasy and narrative. It reminds me of kids stashing their sweets under the bed but he’s just putting it out there.”
Feast for the Eyes is out now, published by Aperture

A Moveable Feast: Noma Mexico

Whole grilled pumpkin with a kelp and avocado fudge

Inspired by Mexico’s rich food history, Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant has opened a temporary outpost in Tulum 

Noma in Copenhagen has been voted the world’s best restaurant three times. Since 2003, head chef and co-owner René Redzepi has taken an innovative approach to Nordic cuisine, with items like deep fried moss, edible flowers and ants all making appearances on the menu. While the original restaurant is relocating to Copenhagen’s Christiania neighbourhood, Redzepi has transported Noma to Tulum in Mexico for a seven week residency.
Staging successful pop-ups in Tokyo and Sydney, Redzepi and the team at Noma have been on the road for the last two years, but Noma Mexico is the third and most ambitious venture yet. Conceived as an open-air restaurant nestled between the jungle and the beach, it offers a meticulously researched tasting menu based on Mexican ingredients and traditions. For Redzepi, this was an opportunity to pay tribute to a country that has excited him for over a decade.
Noma Mexico
When the concept for Noma Mexico presented itself, Noma’s former sous chef, Rosio Sanchez, was the first person Redzepi asked to join the endeavour. She was brought up in Chicago by Mexican parents, from whom she learned a great deal about Mexican cuisine, ingredients and flavours. 
“For the last 6 months, Rosio, a small team and I have been traveling all throughout the country from Merida to Ensenada, from Oaxaca to Guadalajara, and everywhere in between,” says Redzepi. “We searched to find that special chile, to understand the seafood, to taste just a few of the infinite variations of mole, and to find inspiration in the vast and wonderful culture.”
To create new and compelling dishes, Redzepi and Sanchez also teamed up with Traspatio Maya – a nonprofit group of 15 Mayan communities situated across the Yucatan Peninsula – who provided them with hyper-local ingredients. Indigenous delicacies such as rare wild bee larva, pure sweet and sour melipona honey from the Calaukmul reserve, white naal teel corn and pumpkin seeds have been used to create an incredibly diverse 15-course menu. Other items include pinuela, tamarind, crickets, grasshoppers roasted in garlic, chile peppers, jackfruit, mangoes and Yucatan limes. Spice also appears throughout, with dishes ranging from cool masa broth with droplets of habanero oil to pasilla peppers with chocolate sorbet boiled in melipona honey. 
Noma Mexico is open until 28 May 
Photography by Jason Loucas 

Questions of Taste: Douglas McMaster

Meet the pioneering chef and restaurateur behind the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant 
Douglas McMaster has to think more creatively than many chefs today. With his Brighton restaurant Silo, the 27-year-old is leading the country’s zero-waste movement. From sourcing to serving, his mantra is: ‘Waste is a failure of the imagination.’ Everything arrives to the restaurant directly from the farmers, cutting out processing, packaging and food miles. Compost machines are used to turn scraps and trimmings into compost that is then used to support the growth of even more produce. Given his uncompromising approach, the finesse of his dishes is even more impressive.
McMaster dropped out of school and, for him, the kitchen was the only place to go. He found it an environment he could be himself. ‘It was liberating as I hated that school made me feel like I was just another brick in the wall,’ he says. Since then he has gone on to win BBC Young Chef of the year and has worked at a handful of high profile restaurants such as St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, London. He also ran a pop-up restaurant called Wasted in Sydney and Melbourne where he trialled his zero-waste techniques before opening Silo in 2014. ‘I worked under the grandmaster of zero waste – Joost Bakker. It was his idea, I just made it happen from day one,’ he explains. ‘I believe it is my mission to continue carrying the flag and I love to see other innovators in the industry doing the same.’

McMaster’s menus are driven by season and the environment. ‘If there is a large crop of cucumbers, we put cucumbers on the menu. If the forager finds mushrooms, then mushrooms it is. We don’t dictate nature, nature dictates us.’ Recently, he collaborated with Patron Tequila for a Secret Dining Society event, and alongside Mr Lyan founder Iain Griffiths, presented a zero-waste cocktail pairing menu. ‘We even printed the menus on 100% recycled agave to save the agave fibres from tequila production going to waste,’ he says. 

The Nottinghamshire native is intent on spreading the zero-waste message and believes that even small actions can be effective in making a difference. ‘Start by looking at every purchase as a vote. If you buy fast food you are voting for fast food to exist, if you buy organic food you are voting for an organic future, if you buy something with no packaging you are voting for zero-waste.’ 
Silo is located in Brighton’s North Laines
Photography by Xavier Buendia 

Julian Schnabel: New York’s Renaissance Man

Port meets the Brooklyn-born artist, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, father and man about town during an afternoon at his home and studio Even if you don’t know who lives there, the home and studio of the painter Julian Schnabel is a familiar sight for denizens of downtown Manhattan. As the West Village stretches out toward the water, a pale pink tower rises out of blocks of low apartment buildings and townhouses. This is Palazzo Chupi, a residence that Schnabel designed and built in 2009, so called after the nickname of his second wife, Olatz López Garmendia. The structure, with its stepped-back floors, curved windows and arabesque arcades, resembles a cross between a modern condo and a medieval castle in Convivencia Spain. 

To visit Schnabel, one must first make a procession through Palazzo Chupi’s imposing wooden doors on the ground floor and into a tall, dark elevator that features a wall-size mirror, pointed ceiling and a woven bench, in high Gothic style. The doors open on to a sudden mirage, or so it seems: a room of billowing red velvet curtains, stone tiles and enormous paintings covering every available patch of wall – the domain of a deposed monarch in exile perhaps, or one of the best-known and yet least-understood living artists in the world.

Two summers ago, Schnabel was visiting the cemetery where Van Gogh is buried, in Auvers-sur-Oise, to the north of Paris. ‘There were these rose bushes with these pink roses, and there’s this black wall around the cemetery that had little white stones in it,’ he says. The scene provided the impetus for some dozen paintings, which hang, stately, at Pace, like a room of Monets at the Museum of Modern Art, pre-historicised. ‘There’s a work ethic in these paintings, a paintedness that is a very old-fashioned way of being a painter.’

The grandeur of Schnabel’s current surroundings and the Pace exhibition is all part of the artist’s carefully cultivated mystique. As a representative icon of 1980s New York City painting, in all its excesses, and the mascot of the neo-expressionist wave that preoccupied painters at the time, these days the artist is famous for being famous. The New York Times called him “the carnival man of contemporary art” as far back as 1982. Schnabel and his several ex-wives and art-world model girlfriends, and his now-adult children – son Vito and daughter Stella – have been mainstays of the society pages ever since. 

Another factor has increased Schnabel’s public notoriety. He leveraged his fame into Hollywood as well, tapping friendly actors and funding films with his own fortune. The results, movies like Basquiat (in which Bowie plays Warhol) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, display a unique visual sensibility. A new film project will explore the life of his most recent inspiration, Van Gogh, succeeding his paintings.

Yet Schnabel’s new rose period presents a mystery. These are quiet, contemplative paintings, more introverted than anything Schnabel has done in decades. What happened to the bad boy of the 80s, the builder of pink towers, the unrepentant enfant terrible of the art world?

Schnabel’s salon, the room where I meet him, is hung with paintings from the various phases of his long career: an autobiographical solo exhibition that continues throughout his home, hung between eclectic artefacts like a toreador costume and a Chinese idol. In the kitchen is an inchoate work from the 70s, a dark canvas fixed with shelf protrusions and painted with wandering lines, somewhere between neo-expressionism and Arte Povera. Two of the more recent series much in evidence are the ‘Navigation Drawings’, maps with sweeps of thin, translucent paint; and the ‘Goat’ paintings, in which a photograph of a stuffed version of the titular animal is set against a swatch of 19th-century wallpaper and daubed once more.

The rose pieces represent another turn. Schnabel reclines on one side of a long couch and I sit in a throne-like chair beside it, positioned like a therapist to his patient, but the painter gestures for me to sit with him. He eases back further. ‘I want things to be able to be different and address other things, rather than make the same thing over and over,’ he says, gesturing at the work around him.

When talking to artists, there are certain patterns that emerge, no matter what kind of work the artist makes, no matter how famous or obscure they are. One is that they don’t like to be tied to their influences, even if they are undeniable art historical reference points. Hence Schnabel’s dismissal of my initial suggestion of Cy Twombly as a comparison for his rose paintings. Schnabel is a fan of the late painter, whose play between figuration and abstraction his own work echoes, but Twombly’s flowers aren’t his favourite, he says. 

Another reality of conversations with artists is that any attempt to describe their work to them will inevitably fail. This constant falling-short brings to mind the paradox of trying to interpret art in the first place: the experience of viewing it is never the same, nor often remotely similar, to the process of making it, of having your nose up to the canvas and your brush in the paint. The piece often doesn’t mean to its viewer what it means to its creator. ‘You’re doing something and people are all around you, but they don’t see what you see and they don’t know what you’re doing,’ Schnabel says. 

It’s this gap that the artist hopes to represent in his film about Van Gogh, now that he has put an end to the rose series, he says. He can let the audience in on the process of art-making from the painter’s perspective, even as the characters in the movie remain distant from it. Showing the reality of Van Gogh’s life and work seems to be a way for Schnabel to reconcile his own fame with the fact of his ongoing artistic practice, though his own career couldn’t be more different than the post-Impressionist’s – Schnabel has sold far more than one canvas in his lifetime. 

‘The movie’s about painting. Van Gogh as a human being has been highly mythologised; his death and his ear have been mythologised. It would be nice to make a movie about a guy everybody thinks they know about, but maybe they might be surprised,’ Schnabel says. Over the course of our conversation he pauses for longer and longer moments, either fighting sleep or diving into an inner landscape, imagining the work to come.

By this point, the long afternoon has overtaken the city, the sunlight is starting to dim, and Vito’s living room is hushed and enclosed, an unreal space filled with the living detritus of culture. The roses, to offer up my own paltry interpretation, are an effort to seek solace in the rush of time, a way to begin to find a place in history, if there is one to be found. That the blooms the paintings depict will fade is inevitable, but Schnabel has captured them, to set against every image of every flower that will ever be made by an artist. Here is his enduring offering. 

‘Painting seems to last a long time. It’s a wonderful refuge. The painted world is a place where you can reside outside of the world of everything else,’ Schnabel says, and pauses for the longest time, reclining flat on the couch, eyes closed, searching for something internal and then coming back up with it, a vulnerable twinge in his voice communicating a universal ache. ‘In there, there’s a great freedom. Obviously, there’s this crazy relationship with eternity. It’s a denial of death.’

This article is taken from Port issue 20. To subscribe, click here.

Photography by Michael Avedon
Styling by Dan May






Dana Lixenberg: Imperial Courts

The Dutch photographer explains how portraits became stories in her Deutsche Börse Prize-nominated series

In 1992, Dana Lixenberg travelled to Los Angeles for a magazine story on the race riots that broke out after the Rodney King trial. Outrage had spread through the local community after King, an African American taxi driver, was filmed being savagely beaten by several policemen who were later acquitted. 

After witnessing the one-dimensional reporting that seemed to reduce the complex and cultural situation to simplified gangland stereotypes, Lixenberg returned the following year to photograph residents of the Imperial Courts housing estate in Watts. The people there went on to become the focus of her 22-year project, Imperial Courts. Taken between 1993 and 2015, the series of portraits and its publication has earned the Dutch photographer a nomination in this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

The project began with her introduction to OG Tony Bogard, leader of the Imperial Courts Crips faction and unofficial “godfather” of the community. ‘When I was introduced to him, he was very reluctant to trust me, or even work with me,’ Lixenberg recalls. ‘I kept showing up at his house and, eventually, he relented. Tony introduced me to his friend Andre who had just gotten out of jail, needed work and was interested in photography. I would meet him everyday at the playground with my camera, and we would hang out and he would make the introductions,which was very important. Tony had given his approval.’

‘Freeway – 1993’ © Dana Lixenberg

Despite Bogard’s approval, Lixenberg was still met with wariness. ‘A lot of people didn’t want to have their picture taken,’ she continues. ‘I was seen as a negative. There was a lot of media attention due to a fear of new riots following the retrial of the four officers.’ In the end, Lixenberg’s slow, patient approach set her apart from the media frenzy. ‘When I showed them the polaroids, they started to come around.’

The direct style of Lixenberg’s portraits is a defining quality throughout her work. ‘I like it when people don’t perform too much, when you try and create a space where someone just is,’ she says. ‘For me it’s all about the person, looking at each individual and tuning into the mood and the moment. Whether the beauty is shown through a tilt of the head, the body language, or the texture and light, there’s a genuine exchange between me and the subject when I’m photographing them.’

‘Tish’s Baby Shower – 2008’ © Dana Lixenberg

The 1993 photographs were exhibited in the Netherlands, and published in Vibe magazine, after which the work was shelved for fifteen years. ‘I didn’t feel compelled to do a follow-up,’ says Lixenberg. ‘That was never my intention when I did the first series but I’d given people prints and had stayed in touch over the years, and then, as more time passed, the responses became more powerful, and the residents would ask when I was coming back.’

‘Dee Dee with her son Emir – 2013’ © Dana Lixenberg

Lixenberg returned to Imperial Courts in 2008, but quickly found that it wouldn’t be enough to simply produce new versions of the portraits she took in the 90s. She wanted to take the project further, and portray the community in all of its complexity. ‘I wanted to photograph new people and new generations, and make group shots and landscapes. I used sound recordings to document the residents’ reactions to the portraits so they could tell their stories in their own words, and video to show the movement and soundtrack of the area.’

Despite a few cosmetic changes, the social conditions of Imperial Courts had not improved. She found that the project, however, had become less political and more personal. It had become about memory and family, and the bonds that make up a community. ‘People had passed away or were spending time in prison. New generations were born, and the pictures started to carry more weight. The more time passed, the more stories the pictures held. The pictures became stories.’

Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts 1993-2015 is on show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London until 11 June