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FoodThe Croft2023

Dining with Dali: Exploring Salvador Dali's Surrealistic Cult Cookbook

Did you know that surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, also worked on a cult cookbook? Music Editor, Oscar Ross, explores the unique and ever so surreal culinary pursuits of Dali as he reviews Les Diners De Gala.

Surrealism and food photoshoot with shrimp and sea-bass Inspired by Salvador Dali

By Oscar Ross, Music Editor

The Croft Magazine// Craving a “Bush of crayfish in Viking herbs”? Fancy a “Leg of lamb shot with Madiera”? Maybe you’ve had a long day and need some good old-fashioned “Eels with Beer”. You know, classic comfort food.

136 similarly chaotic recipes lie beneath the ornate cover of Salvador Dali’s Les Dîners de Gala, a surrealist cookbook ranging from the genuinely delicious-sounding to the “why, please no, this is disgusting, stop”. Dedicated to his wife, Gala, the original book was published in 1973, and printed in only 400 copies. This limited release left the cookbook in a position of extreme rarity and cult following, eventually leading to its re-publishing by Taschen in 2016. It is this revived version of Dali’s culinary mania that lies open beside me, Dali’s illustrations of reverse mermaid trout and horror scapes of the uglier side of the digestive system looking up at me.

Salvador Dali Les Dines de gala surrealist cult cookbook
ⓒ Taschen -Amazon

Before you read on, I’ll give you the fair warning that Dali gave his readers:

“If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you”.

-    Salvador Dalì, Les Dîners de Gala

Now, this book isn’t all weird, it is also wonderful, with the main barrier being the old-fashioned nature of the recipes. Granted, some are more surrealist in their method and presentation, I’m looking at you “Frog Cream” and “Peacock à l’Impériale dressed and surrounded by its court”, these are recipes by the way, not early 2000’s emo album titles.

Dali’s recipes are based on Nouvelle Cuisine, a culinary style that was increasingly popular in Northern Spain in the ’70s, and were designed to be made for Salvador and Gala’s insanely weird “parties”. The couple’s famous gatherings featured exotic animals roaming the room such as Babou, Dali’s ocelot house cat, mandatory costumes, plates of weird and wonderful surrealist cooking that line the pages of Les Dîners de Gala and well, some other adult stuff we won’t get into here.

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A post shared by Salvador Dalí (@salvadordalioficial)

So as you can see, while I may use some of Dali’s weirder recipes to shock and amuse, these are not “joke” or purely artistic recipes. Dali had these dishes cooked for his guests and they actually ate them. Admittedly, I wouldn’t mind a starter of “Escalope of foie gras wrapped in chicken” and I’m not a desert person but I would try a bowl of Dali’s Old champagne Sherbert”.

The dishes featured on my ideal surrealist menu, alongside many others, are given high-star ratings by Parisian institutes such as Maxim’s de Paris, La Tour d’Argent and Lasserre. These fine-dining powerhouses all pitch in throughout the book to certify Dali’s recipes such as “Truffles “Cinderella” in Flaky Pasty” and “Pheasant Raphael Ravenga”.

Not only is this a weirdly legitimate recognition of Dali’s surrealist culinary work by old-school centres of fine dining, but it’s also a heart-warming fulfilment of one of Dali’s childhood dreams:

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since

- Salvador Dali The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1948)

Surrealism and food photoshoot with shrimp Inspired by Salvador Dali
Saiba Haque (Inspired by Dali)

While the artist’s ambition and eccentrics will never be enough to please his seven-year-old self (which is definitely for the best), Dali does become a cook in this book. I doubt Dali was ever found on the backline, chopping carrots into weird, most likely sexual shapes, or washing piles of dishes organised in the shape of melting clocks, but he blurs the lines between the art forms of his own surrealism and distinct Nouvelle Cuisine culinary creativity in Les Dîners de Gala.

In his commentary, Salvador seems to get his moustache in a right twist about spinach, writing a slam piece on the poor vegetable (which in my opinion, did absolutely nothing to deserve this):

"If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty."

-    Salvador Dali, Les Dîners de Gala

On an uncharacteristically positive note, Dali depicts what he does like to eat, unfortunately, this involves the preparation of a live duckling, a recipe that completely ruined my hoisin wrap. I like to imagine my AGA-loving, cottage-core Grandma making the mistake of asking Salvador Dali what he wants for tea, only for him to reply with some terrifying comment like:

“The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge”

-    Salvador Dali, Les Dîners de Gala

Surrealism and food photoshoot with shrimp and sea-bass Inspired by Salvador Dali
Saiba Haque (Inspired by Dali)

All in all: This is a really strange book. I want to have a copy with me everywhere I go. Laced with weird recipes, strikingly beautiful and deeply disturbing double-page art spreads, as well as Dali’s continuously nutty comments, it’s certainly an experience I would recommend. Proceed with caution though, I haven’t even told you about the sequel yet: Wines of Gala, or as I like to call it “Dali 2: More Salvador”.

Salvador Dali's Les Diners de Gala is available for students to borrow from the Arts and Social Sciences Library

Dali inspired, featured image by Saiba Haque

What are your thoughts on surrealism and food?