Jane Le Besque,
Gourmet reverie in a Mesolithic garden
The artist, who lives at the gates of Geneva, is fascinated by the origins of taste: she has notably dedicated a book to it, mixing watercolours, humour and recipes, workshops and other performances. Cooking thus becomes an extension of creation, an artistic approach in itself.
The studio is set up at the bottom of a wonderful garden, designed like a living, pulsating organism, with its vegetable dragon and pond populated by koi carp, its space devoted to the gathering of wild plants and its old varieties of trees returned to their original state. One enters it like Alice through some rabbit hole, to find oneself projected into another space-time… Far, very far from viruses and confinement.
A time of flint and animal skins, perhaps, a time of incredible feasts and abundance. The workshop is that of Jane Le Besque, a singular artist fascinated by the taste of origins. On certain days, there are proud Mesolithic feasts, preceded by wild harvests and copious brooches on an outdoor fireplace. The table on trestles is covered with familiar or unusual ingredients, sorrel and plantain, rosehip, pine nuts and wild berries, bunches of elderberry, marrow bones, some deer stew or wild boar leg. Our hominid ancestors imagined processes of great complexity: they searched for days for clays, coal and ochre, to extract pigments bound with animal fat, vegetable juices, urine or blood and use them to create the monumental frescoes of Lascaux or the Chauvet cave. “Beings endowed with such sensitivity were bound to be able to appreciate the aroma of a bear garlic omelette, a wild salad or a terrine of mushrooms with hazelnuts”. This reflection is at the origin of a small poetic book, of great delicacy, mixing watercolours, humour and recipes, which Jane Le Besque has devoted to Mesolithic cooking (Cooking from a mesolithic garden and other stories. www.janelebesque.art). As a reminder, this teeming period after the Ice Age, some 8,000 years before our era, saw Europe covered with forests, rivers and unheard-of nourishing resources. “One can imagine, at times, that there was so much game that hunting was fairly easy. It has even been extrapolated that the abuse of protein, after having shot a large piece, was a source of hallucinations, which were treated with medicinal plants and birch sap”.
Jane’s recipes are a matter of artistic fantasy, but her approach is probably not so different from our distant ancestors when she prepares snail skewers with sorrel or asparagus shoots with marrow. Beyond her poetic approach and humour, Jane Le Besque has tracked down the anachronism, verifying that the plants did exist at the time and that the combinations of ingredients were in accordance with the seasons. After a childhood in Sussex, a “very Christian education in a very traditional environment”, Jane Le Besque studied Fine Arts in Birmingham, lived in Toulouse and London before settling in Pays de Gex. “My interest in cooking arose very early on, I loved picking mushrooms or wild blackberries”. She also remembers a drawing teacher who introduced her to wild picking. And her father, a serious soldier, organized survival courses for elite troops. As for the rest, Jane is a pure self-taught cook. The artist went through phases of revolt and various inspirations, revisiting Christian iconography with scenes of the Annunciation, the Apocalypse or the Crucifixion, barbaric paintings, questions about sin and the forbidden, the sacred and the flesh, then the mood softened, the angels became birds and flowers or bees, nature regained all the space.
Jane sought to explore rituals and sharing through cooking and painting, to question spirituality, to search for her Grail through the two complementary and parallel paths of pictorial art and culinary creation. Her first book, in 2006, “Un soufflé de pollen”, nominated for the Eugénie Brazier Prize, already explores this vein; she has devoted another to African cuisines, for the benefit of AIDS patients, and her current project, which is highly topical, deals with viruses. A visionary, this Jane…