There’s all kinds of art to be found in New York.
There are art galleries, for sure, with their uneven gestures and brusque avantgardisms; there are store windows on Madison Avenue, glowing smugly; there is performance art – queer, sarcastic, ironic, joyful.
And, there is dessert.
The Dessert Chef (Shuna Lydon) and I have corresponded unevenly over a couple of years; I follow her blog, Eggbeater, and have tasted her sublime desserts at (now defunct) Sens in San Francisco, and we did a reading together in The Bay Area. She recently moved back to her hometown, New York. A couple of Facebook messages later, and The Red Headed Busker, The Butch Performance Artist and myself were meeting up for brunch at 10 Downing in The Village where Shuna is pastry chef.
This too was a kind of performance art. The Pastry Chef came out and gave a short monologue, just for us, about dessert, Karen Finley, and the rigours of working in kitchens. As usual, she was sweetly secretive about what exactly we’d be eating for dessert.
Red Headed Busker and I shared a tasty smoked salmon eggs benny with mustard hollandaise on brioche. The Performance Artist told us about her brilliant ongoing research-performance piece The Homo Bonobo Project. A basket of Shuna’s ‘baked goods’ – with her crazy-delicious citrus marmalade – appeared on the table.
As the pale winter sun streamed in we kept talking: about the changes in Greenwich Village and beyond; about the life of an artist, and about how you just keep doing the work, day after day, with or without funding. The Performance Artist bemoaned the loss of independent and queer culture in an increasingly corporatized and gentrified Manhattan. She’s rebuilding community with a series of cabaret evenings she’s hosting and performing at called The Bulldyke Chronicles, at Dixon Place. The Busker listened raptly: different genre and audience, same concerns.
Suddenly, two dessert creations appeared before us. The first was a cheesecake made with lebneh, a strained yogurt cheese, with a crisp crust reminiscent of, but way more exciting than, graham cracker, sided with roasted almonds and that thrilling marmalade. It reminded me of the cheesecake my ma makes at Easter, and the migrations – cultural and geographical – that had brought those light, resonant flavours and memories together.
These desserts are the sum of their parts. The other, Butterscotch Pot de Creme, came with dulche de leche, and brown-sugar-cumin roasted pecans. Soft and crunchy, sweet and salty; deeply sensuous.
By then, The Busker had to go perform in the subway. The Performance Artist and I groaned and moaned our way through these sweet/savory narratives, aka dessert. The afternoon was starting to wane and there was still art to be seen, and made. Performance Artist hopped on her bike and rode off into the narrow streets of the Village. I headed up towards the galleries in Chelsea and then changed my mind, went shopping instead. I was too full – of dessert, creativity, and inspiration – to ingest anymore art that day.