The sobrasada sits on a slab of black terrazzo perched on a plinth, a straight-sided block of scoopable red ocher-colored spiced sausage, the surface of which depicts an undulating landscape. On a tabletop resting on two piles of white pebbles, charcoal corn crackers are arranged in overlapping circles alongside a matrix of whole heirloom tomatoes, seeded and sliced into wedges and drizzled with garlic black olive oil. A menu pinned to one corner of the low table looks like a museum poster and reads in part: “Crispy Seaweed Ribbons & Labne Dip; black corn crackers; Miso onigiri with furikake.”
Guests at a September book launch party for Montalba Architects gather on one of the Hammer Museum’s mezzanines overlooking Westwood and circle the exhibit like hawks riding thermals. No one wants to disturb the rows of ceviche on fresh sorrel leaves or mounds of honeycomb toffee on a long, terraced stand. But it’s the only thing on everyone’s mind: “Can we eat it?”
“It just takes a second. I’ll spread the word,” says Eléna Petrossian, founder of food design studio Ananas Ananas, based in Ensenada in Los Angeles and Baja California. “It’s almost like a social experiment.”
The first encouraged guest squats on the floor next to a concrete sculpture; It is shaped like a kind of semi-cylinder and has channels containing labne mixed with chives. She takes a dried seaweed chip to scoop some of it and then eats it. Others get in.
Petrossian and co-founder Verónica González have designed their food installations for store openings, brand collaborations, gallery exhibitions, magazine parties and product launches. art, design, fashion and food maximum cultural criss-crossPetrossian and González say they are exploring new sensory experiences and new ways of eating.
Often that means no plates or utensils for their edible sculptures, and sometimes no seating or tables. Instead, dolmades are served on chiseled wire fences or gravel bars, oysters on huge blocks of ice. Roasted carrots hang from the ceiling; Halved baguettes are tapered in thick swirls of butter, resembling waves from Japanese ukiyo-e paintings. Some of these are the sort of “Jolie-Laide assemblages” attributed to the likes of chef and artist Laila Gohar, who was recently featured in The New Yorker and whose retail store popped up at Dries Van Noten in Los Angeles last month.
Petrossian says she and González were inspired by creators like Dutch food artist Marije Vogelzang, who designed a “spa treatment” for the mouth where participants are blindfolded and fully wrapped in a body hammock, with a hole in it for the face (black like a banana costume) through which groceries can be delivered. Through headphones, one hears “an audio story speaking their own language,” “which advocates that people pay more attention to their senses,” says Vogelzang in a video on her website.
“Architects, painters, sculptors — we try to build food by taking inspiration from other artists working in a different medium,” says Petrossian.
“She took the time to learn about our work and the materiality,” says David Montalba, whose architecture firm’s projects include the Webster in Los Angeles, LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal and eco-chalets in Switzerland. “We wanted to tell a story” through food, he explains.
González, 29, is an industrial designer by training who grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and Petrossian, 32, was born and raised in Glendale — both food-heavy. Petrossian quit a career in fashion production eight years ago and moved to Mexico City, where the two met through friends while living in Condesa.
“We decided to do an installation for some friends in my living room,” Petrossian says, “and from their reactions we were like, ‘Oh, everyone’s so interested in this?’ We hung fruit on fishing wire. Some people went in with their mouths. Some people used napkins. Some stood on the sidelines and stared. It was an interesting study to see people discovering this way of eating.”
For most chefs, meal planning doesn’t start with a 3D rendering. But for the long-distance duo Pineapple Pineapple — Petrossian now in Los Angeles, González in Ensenada this fall — creating a menu is part of the process.
“We never do the same thing twice,” says Petrossian. “We measure everything, we make sure everything works. Everything corresponds exactly to the dimensions on the rendering.”
“I always focus on experiential design, how objects and spaces behave around people,” says González, “how people connect with the form, the texture, the light. This is my understanding of what I still do in my artistic practice. So when people ask, “How did you end up eating?” Well it’s very connected. We think of materials and objects as ingredients.”
At a grand opening party in November hosted by Cultured magazine for The Future Perfect – the gallery/residence in film producer Samuel Goldwyn’s former Hollywood home – González cuts mushrooms in the kitchen, while Petrossian next does the last on a raised platform Finishing touches to the swimming pool. Built with the help of two assistants, it serves as the base for three different sized lighted lampshades, completely covered with trumpet and oyster mushrooms.
“It’s kind of paradoxical to have something that looks like it lives inside but is actually outside, and not only can you interact with it,” says Petrossian, “you can also eat it.”
Future Perfect gallery director Laura Young walks through the mansion (it’s LA’s fourth Future Perfect house, moving every few years), a complex of galleries and living quarters. “We love staying nomads because we love constantly changing,” says Young. “It’s about creating a new canvas. lake [for the party]why not make food art?”
Petrossian attached 4,000 pins to the three lampshades to hang the mushrooms. “It took me two days just to insert the pins. That’s all I did – and watch TV. I haven’t moved from my couch,” she says. “My original idea was to sew up each mushroom. But they dry out so quickly that you can’t do it too far in advance. We had to find a way, the tag to install.”
“I love it,” says Young of Future Perfect. “I think conceptually it’s cool. Part of me wishes they would just sit on the lamps we have. I love that they have this mythical presence. Wouldn’t it be crazy if they were upstairs in the bedroom?”
While Petrossian attaches a mushroom disc to each pin, González follows with a brush of soy sauce and rice vinegar marinade, careful not to stain lampshades or table bases. “The mushrooms are so good on their own,” she says. “They just needed a kick with salt vinegar.”
When it comes to dish development, Petrossian says her Armenian background blends with González’s Mexican influences. “If I think about trying something, I can already taste what it will be.”
“You always get the flavors of the Middle East,” says González.
“The saffron, the rose water, those flavors are very home to me,” says Petrossian. “She’s going to do the cilantro jalapeño thing.”
“And some garlic. It’s never not there,” says González. “There’s garlic in everything.”
González smears cashew cream directly onto a corner of the table frame and shapes it into an organic oval shape with concave areas, which she fills with jalapeño-cilantro-infused olive oil from a squeeze bottle; this is the dip for the mushroom slices. The finishing touch is a spoonful of translucent green algae “caviar” placed in the indentation of each yellow oyster mushroom cap.
When diners arrive, they start taking phone photos of the mushroom lamps but are reluctant to touch the food. They lean over the platform to get a closer look and finally someone takes a slice of mushroom from one of the lampshades and rubs it through the cashew cream. Coriander jalapeño oil will begin to ooze around the outer edges of the dip.
“So abstract food art is part of it. I find the fact that the sink has no boundary inviting,” says Hiroshi Kaneko, architect at Studio Shamshiri. “And honestly, I think the big one is actually a great lampshade.”