The Color of Carbs: Artist Serves Flowers Fine Dining

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“I’ll have the Teal and Royal Purple, with a small side dish of Cherry Red and Navy Blue” said the rose bush.

“Ah, an excellent choice, monsieur. A classic main dish, with a bit of spice on the side. We’ll have that to to you as soon as the sun rises,” said the waiter at the Photosynthetic Restaurant at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California.

The Restaurant will open April 16, and provide plants with a taste of the good life, for the first time in their millions of years of existence.

“For nearly a half billion years, plants have subsisted on a diet of photons haphazardly served up by the sun and indiscriminately consumed, without the least thought given to culinary enjoyment. Frankly, it’s barbaric,” said Jonathan Keats, the founder of the feast for flowers, in a Crocker press release.

To create his restaurant, Keats placed panes of colored acrylic above the plants. As sunlight passes through, only certain wavelengths will reach the plants. And those specific wavelengths each cause a different response in the plants.

“Red light tends to boost carbohydrate levels in plants, whereas blue light is beneficial for building proteins… You or I might get a carbohydrate boost by eating a plate of spaghetti. I can provide the same sort of experience to plants by tilting their intake of sunlight toward the red end of the spectrum,” Keats told Discovery News.

But Keats’ Photosynthetic Restaurant isn’t a science experiment. It is an culinary adventure for cultivars, designed to blur the line between human and plants.

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“If I were a patron at Chez Panisse or Le Bernardin, the last thing I’d want would be for the waiter to start prodding me with a thermometer and stethoscope between the first and second course. And if the waiter were to do so, I doubt that the measurements would be meaningful, since there aren’t diagnostics that can reliably tell whether a meal is enjoyable,” said Keats in another interview with Discovery News.

“That’s partly what interests me about opening a restaurant for plants. We tend to regard the world, apart from ourselves, as entirely quantifiable. There is an implicit anthropocentric arrogance to science,” he continued.

 

“My photosynthetic restaurant provides plants with a typically human experience, an experience that we tend to think of as personal or subjective: taking pleasure in fine cuisine,” Keats said.

His accompanying recipe book details the colors for three meals: traditional, spicy, and avante-gard.

“The first is certainly the most traditional, artfully accentuating qualities of unfiltered daylight, which is naturally most intensely violet at dawn and dusk,” wrote Keats in the foreword of the book. “A healthful meal with plenty of high-energy orange and yellow midday illumination, this recipe is recommended as an introduction to photosynthetic cuisine for plants unaccustomed to gourmet sunlight.”

But what about the plant who likes a little fire in their photosynthesis?

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“One of the qualities I savor most in food is spiciness. And spiciness is a very strange thing: Capsaicin is produced by vegetables such as jalapenos as a defense mechanism against getting eaten. But jalapenos are piquant precisely for that reason. In moderation, the alarm set off on our tongue is exciting,” said Keats.

“The balanced use of spiciness is one of the oldest and most important culinary techniques, and is a technique I also use in my Photosynthetic Restaurant,” he said.

“In the case of plants, what’s alarming is far red light, because far red is reflected off the leaves of surrounding plants which may block out the sun. Plants sense the threat with phytochromes. I add spice to my cuisine by stimulating the phytochromes by filtering in a little far red radiation,” said Keats.

The third recipe pushes the boundaries of plant cuisine. An unaccustomed plant palate might find a serving the violet wavelength of light at mid-day too shocking and decadent. Normally such treats are only for after-hours. But Keats challenges bold bushes and risk-taking roses with a recipe that serves up late-night light in the afternoon.

Keats suggests this recipe, “only for flora that has developed an appreciation for photosynthetic cuisine, and that may enjoy bold juxtapositions of color starkly different from anything found in nature. In particular this recipe syncopates plants’ circadian rhythm by teasing their cryptochromes with a course of evening violet in the middle of the afternoon.”

Though some of his recipes may test a plant’s palate, the Photosynthetic Restaurant isn’t junk food for junipers.

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“I know that the plants will respond positively because my meals are all wholesome, using a good balance of colors in accordance with everything botanists have learned about plant physiology,” said Keats. “And naturally that can be measured by observing the foliage.”

“But the positive response I hope to achieve at the Photosynthetic Restaurant is of another order. People who dine at Le Bernardin or Chez Panisse are getting more out of the meal than their Recommended Daily Intake of Riboflavin and Vitamin B12. The pleasure they derive from the culinary artistry goes beyond mere functionality,” said Keats.

In fine restaurants, the chefs use fine ingredients. Only the best plants can make the best foods. Could it be that pampered guests of the Photosynthetic Restaurant will someday end up on the menu of a fine dining establishment?

“Most of the patrons will be rose bushes, and of course roses are not alien to fine dining since the petals are often used in the most lavish of salads. So I think that it’s appropriate to treat rose bushes to a gourmet cuisine of their own,” said Keats. “On the other hand, making a meal of my patrons would seem impertinent in the extreme given conventional restaurant protocols and cannot be condoned by me as a restaurateur.”

“That said, taboo is the underbelly of cuisine. Why not eat these privileged creatures? What’s the difference between edible and palatable? Those are questions I leave to my fellow humans,” Keats said.

The epicurean delights of plants and people can seem overly decadent in a world where millions of Keats’ fellow humans suffer from a lack of food. But he hopes his restaurant encourages people to think about the complex relationship between plants and humans, and the role that striving for finer food has had on agriculture.

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“As our plants grow more civilized, perhaps they can further civilize us,” said Keats in the press release.

“While it is true that fine dining is a luxury – and perversely counterproductive in terms of basic nutrition – plant cultivation and food distribution have historically been abetted by the quest for tastier cuisine,” said Keats in an interview.

“We need to tease out the complex relationship between feast and famine, the constructive and destructive forces of civilization. The Photosynthetic Restaurant is a space for contemplation,” he said.

There may be more meditative space like the Restaurant opening around the world soon. Keats even plans to give a taste of the photosynthetic foodie fad to houseplants.

“I’m excited to announce that the first franchise of my photosynthetic restaurant will be opening later this year in Italy, at a nonprofit arts institution called PaRDeS,” said Keats.

“I’m also now developing a TV dinner for plants, formulated by videotaping select wavelengths of natural sunlight and editing the footage into a quick and convenient meal that can be enjoyed by indoor flora. Just set your plants in front of your television and let them soak in the succession of gourmet colors,” Keats said.

Bon appétit, begonias!

IMAGE 1: A Rose bush (Wikimedia Commons).

IMAGE 2: The electromegnetic spectrum (Wikimedia Commons).

IMAGE 3: Restaurant’s welcome sign (Courtesy of Keats).

IMAGE 4: Jalapenos (Wikimedia Commons).

IMAGE 5: Pansies in a salad, an example of edible flowers (Wikimedia Commons).

IMAGE 6: TV dinners (Courtesy of Keats).