Lei Saito is a Paris-based ‘chef of life’, crafting a unique range of existential cuisine that reflects on human life. She sculpts incredible landscapes out of food, makes ice rinks out of clementine juice, flamingo soup, and champagne jellies that dance to music coming from hidden dining table speakers.
You’ve created a movement called ‘Cuisine Existentielle’ (Existential Cuisine). What does this mean? What is the aim of your work?
Cuisine Existentielle is a delicious story, that is at once beautiful, tasty and conceptual. It is a performance, a miraculous landscape, but also a mirage destined to disappear.
Everything is evanescent, we would like to remember this special occasion: the place, the theme, the guests. Each event is a unique encounter that is celebrated because it will only take place once in this life and in this world.
The titles and recipes are woven from mythological inspiration, ranging from The Odyssey and art history, to personal mythologies and Japanese and French language games. Time and flavours shared with others form a fabulous new story that crystallises a sentimental experience, an atmosphere.
We become the performance, through tasting.
It is maybe not a ‘movement’ since I am doing it only by myself. But what is beautiful in this project is to see that people continue to talk about the performance or installation long after the tasting experience. The work continues to expand like new stories.
Would you describe yourself as a chef or an artist?
Cuisine Existentielle is my artist work. I am not a trained chef but I am probably a chef of life.
Can you tell me about your project making an ice rink out of clementine juice?
It was when I was working during the blue hour, the twilight time [period] when the sunlight becomes extremely blue. The project was based on my hypothesis about blue and orange, two complementary colours. I was wondering how the sunlight at the blue hour would reflect on a orange surface, what would happen? These two colours are complementary, so would they cancel each other out, send a transparent beam and make the world disappear?
So I made a huge orange-coloured ice skating rink made from organic clementine juice in a hidden Montmartre forest.
The project was part of the exhibition Le Bord des Mondes (At the Edge of the Worlds) held at the Palais de Tokyo where, alongside my neighbouring artists at the Cité Internationale des Arts de Montmartre, we were doing a series of ephemeral performances at the blue hour in the morning.
My reflection was then crystallised into my solo exhibition entitled As the clementine ice rink glistens in the light, the world fades into translucent at l’heure bleue, in spring 2015 at Galerie de Multiples, Paris.
Is humour important to your work?
What inspires you?
Why is food your favourite material to work with?
I’ve loved cooking and eating since I was three years old. For me, food is the easiest and quickest method of expression. When I was a child, I took pictures of my recipes and what I was eating (as we Instagram today), because I was always worried about these delicious moments disappearing for ever. My Cuisine Existentielle performances allow me to share these evanescent and beautiful moments through tasting food landscape.
Why did you decide to make jelly out of champagne, then serve it on a table with hidden speakers?
It was for a music event, and I needed a sound piece. But since I work more with silence than with music, I had no sound work. But I invited people to taste these jellies made from champagne so that we deliberately got drunk and started to see the jellies dancing with the vibration from the speakers.
What other fun food projects have you done?
I’ve made a lot… a new recipe of roast phoenix, toffee apple to heal broken hearts, ‘Looking Glass Milk’ inspired by Alice’s sequel to [Alice in] Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, sadistic cake for the Palais de Tokyo, an ongoing project of royal breakfast entitled Petit Déjeuner Royal pour les Early Risers… I always try to create a landscape or a scene that we have yet never seen, but at the same time which reminds us of something good or nostalgic.