Fresh on the heels of the news that Hong Kong would be receiving its own The Standard when the proper location reveals itself (as well as 15 other other hotels across the globe), and on the eve of the city’s seventh annual Art Basel bacchanal, the scene at mid-century eatery Potato Head, tucked next to a wash & fold in Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun district offered a palpable anticipation.
The scene was presided over by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi, the artist/chef duo who have frequently collaborated with The Standard’s very own Creative + Cultural Director of Asia, Chomwan Weeraworawit in their signature nomadic, disruptive, and completely unexpected style. This time around, the two presented a sweeping preview of dishes found in their forthcoming Bastard Cookbook.
I think Bastard Cooking is cooking without any prejudice or idea of certain origins
Due out in May from Garret, the tome is set to showcase a goldmine of unique recipes that highlight a no holds barred homage to the flavor-packed food Rirkirt and Antto have cooked together over their years of friendship, and have come to refer to as “Bastard Cooking.”
“I think Bastard Cooking is cooking without any prejudice or idea of certain origins,” Melasniemi told us while presiding over a piping hot pyramid of red curry “spiked” Nordic meatballs, pausing to ladle on another spoonful of gravy. “It’s the freest form of cooking.”
“It’s kind of like jazz,” Tiravanija added. “It’s improvisational. We deal with the situation we’re given, and often, the worse the situation is, the better the result can be. In a way, the amateurism of it makes it more challenging and if it succeeds, it's more fulfilling.”
With the keys to the revered Potato Head kitchen turned over to the two gentlemen for the evening, a steady flow of Bastard-approved delicacies kept us all well fed. Stalwart dishes like cured salmon atop Finnish archipelago bread and a deceivingly spicy cabbage som tom salad floated seamlessly among innovations devised by the pair like green sauce vegan lasagna and bowls of khao soi curry topped with thin potato chips. However, the undisputed crowd favorite had to be the grilled reindeer, paired with a mysterious, mint green puree that had not been dreamt up until the chefs arrived in the kitchen earlier in the day.
“I guess no one really knows this, but we found these stinky beans in the fridge that the restaurant was going to use for a different dish tomorrow, so we asked for permission to steal them and we made a puree to go with the deer,” Melasniemi admitted. “It became one of our nicest dishes ever I think. I feel like we should change the book to include that now actually.”
Last minute decisions like these are indeed the essence of Bastard Cooking, and an experience everyone knows well, particularly around rent week when the fridge and cupboards may appear bare until a dose of culinary creativity kicks in. So, for a cooking style that calls for this free-flowing way, how are we expected to follow the recipes found inside the Bastard Cookbook? “They are kind of instructions—sometimes vague instructions—on how to make a dish,” Melasniemi explained, both gentlemen displaying a wry smile and a knowing glance at each other.
the night stretched into the wee hours, the family-style dinner—which also
acted an in impromptu celebration marking Tobias Rehberger’s latest solo show
at the Rockbund Museum in Shanghai—gave way to a musings as to how these two
seemingly disparate hosts—and one a lauded gastronomical mastermind from
Helsinki, Finland and the other a minted modern artisan living between New
York, Chiang Mai, Berlin, and Mexcio who once transformed the Grand Palais in
Paris into a soup canteen—work so well together. “We were just talking food and things,” Tiravanija recalled of
their first meeting at a food conference. “Now it’s an open exchange, based on
his knowledge and my semi-knowledge, and I hope that relationship, and what we
create, translates to a memorable experience for the people who came.”
I’ve always said, I’m not a very good cook, so I feel like it’s the people around that make it all better; they form the good experience
And it goes without saying that memories were made, with guests draped over one and other in the curvaceous armchairs and others selecting vinyl delicacies for the record player in a clandestine lounge room accessible only through the kitchen, the evening was indeed a work of art in itself, devised by Tiravanija as another one of his signature living pieces that seek to highlight that indescribable alchemy of socialization.
“I’ve always said, I’m not a very good cook, so I feel like it’s the people around that make it all better; they form the good experience,” Tiravanija added. “You know, the idea that the Internet would bring us closer together was, to me, always false. I’d rather go to the bar and sit next to someone and talk about whatever. No machine can provide that, and there’s a certain kind of reality there that I enjoy.”
After all, with a bastard meal on hand and enough liquid courage, you never know what might happen—or whom you may meet.