A Conversation with Chef Tiberio SimoneErotica // Wednesday, 14 Sep 2011
Born in Neviano, a small town in the “boot heel” of Southern Italy, chef-author and cultural provocateur Tiberio Simone is also an award-winning food artist. After a stint as an elite paratrooper in the Italian Special Forces, love brought him to Seattle where he joined the restaurant industry. In 1995, while pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, Simone won a James Beard Award for one of his signature chocolate creations. Now the owner of La Figa Catering, Simone shares his love of food and sensuality by nourishing others with his culinary delights. He is also a popular and passionate speaker about his vision of a life made full through a diet of both food and sensual touch.
La Figa: Visions of Food and Form is a book featuring a spectacular collection of sensual photography – models wearing nothing but the edible creations of James Beard award-winning chef Tiberio Simone. Using the human body as his canvas, and natural fresh ingredients as his paint, Simone’s elegant and tasteful nude images are the culmination of a five year collaboration with photographer Matt Freedman.
1 - What is the first food you strongly remember eating as a child?
There are four things I remember most strongly. In the morning, my mom would have me and my two brothers sitting on the kitchen counter next to each other. She would spoon into our mouths broken soft bread soaked in goat’s milk, and orzo coffee with some sugar. I still remember how much I loved it, and I can still feel the texture, taste the sweet flavor, and smell the aroma of the goat cheese.
I also remember her getting warm eggs from the chicken coop, separating the yolks, placing them on a spoon, and adding San Marzano liquor. I would swallow them without breaking the yolks (this was an afternoon energy food, and I loved it because it would give me a little buzz of energy).
The third one is my mother’s sauce made from the tomatoes of our garden, and cooked for hours with just onions, then finished with a hint of basil. I remember the sweetness and the total mess.
My favorite though was tiny steamed escargot with fresh squeezed lemon juice – eaten by using a toothpick to pull them out of the shells. There was always a battle with my brothers for who would get to eat more – we were crazy for them.
2 - What kind of difficulties did you initially encounter when you began incorporating food with the human body?
I had many many difficulties – every shoot I had a new one, because food is meant to go inside the body not outside, and even though bodies in general are all similar, the size, shapes, and skin textures are all different.
One of the most common problems was the challenge of keeping the food fresh and bright long enough for Matt to take amazing photos, without it drying from the heat of the body, or changing color.
Another one was keeping the food on the body without using any non-edible glue. I am purist about my art, and I insist that nothing but food be put on the models’ bodies. The glues I tried included olive oil, egg white, balsamic vinegar reduction, sugar, saliva, and many more based on what type of food we were shooting, and how moist or dry the model’s skin was.
Another big challenge was finding a pose that would be different from the previous shoots, look great, and work with the design I had prepared – and be something that the model could comfortably hold for as long as it took to me to arrange the food to perfection, and Matt to shoot it.
I could go on with this, but I am going to stop here – I do not want to bore you with 10 pages of difficulties.
3 - In American culture we tend to overindulge in food and sex, pushing our bodies to unhealthy extremes. How do you think we can scale back our excesses? If we change our relationship with food, will our perceptions of sex change as well?
First of all, I think the biggest problem about overindulging in food is the fact that the majority of Americans eat fake food made from very cheap ingredients, and oversized portions such as giant scoops of ice cream, piles of bacon, fatty sausages made from factory meat production, processed pseudo-cheese, tons of canned fruit packed with sugar, beverages that are mostly fructose with a just a hint of actual fruit, and on and on. Because cheap food does not have good nutrition, people will eat extra to fulfill the body’s needs, and people get bigger, and tend to be less motivated.
When it come to sex the story changes – pornography is everywhere on the internet, and millions of video are free. Because people like free and cheap, they tend to spend time on the computer, and get their needs satisfied by masturbation. Because it is such easy access, they get too lazy to actually seduce someone, or find excitement in somebody they are already with.
Sex is wonderful, if it is done in the right context for both partner’s enjoyment. Of course it feels good in the moment, but when it is done only to feel good in the moment (cheap sex) without consideration of the quality of the mutual touch, it can become addicting. In other words, just like cheap food, larger quantities of cheap sex are needed to fulfill the bodies cravings. I personally think the only way we can scale back the quantity of food we consume is to simply pay attention to the quality of what we eat. And when it comes to sex, do it with the right person and the right intention.
When it comes down to it, there are two basic ingredients of life – FOOD and TOUCH. The nutrition of the inside, and the nutrition of the outside. Two things we must remember for a good life – eat well and make love. Not eating junk food, and not just fucking – even though once in a while it can be great (to tell the truth, once in a great while I will eat a corn dog).
4 - Can you explain the meaning of 'pleasure activist'?
Absolutely, that is me. Once while giving a speech at a conference, I introduced myself as Delicious, and my job as pleasure activist. So one person asked, “Can I be one of those?” “Absolutely” I said. Everyone can be a pleasure activist, but it requires some work, dedication, and most of all, it requires giving without thinking that you are giving. So a pleasure activist is a person who truly loves giving pleasure as I do. I am a chef, and I love to feed others. I am a lover, and love and honor sex, and I make love to many. I love touch, and I touch as much as possible. I love smiling, and I make people smile back. I love giving honest pleasant compliments, and I love to kiss almost everybody. That is my meaning of pleasure activist. Is easy, and everyone can do it – and trust me, it is fun to be one of us.
5 -What exotic food do you find the most sensual, and which female body part do you find most delectable?
The most sensual foods for me are many, but if I really have to choose couple of them, I will say raw sea urchin – eating it with a piece of good bread, scooping directly from the spiny shell. It is really amazing – sexy and satisfying just like great sex. I am actually salivating now.
Another one is Mediterranean mussels. Especially when I am in southern Italy eating them raw with fresh lemon, directly from the half shell, while my feet are in the ocean, and I am watching the sun going down.
When it comes to the female body, there are so many sections that are delectable for me, I could write a whole book about it. But of course it totally depends on the woman. I personally love lips with a touch of saliva. But more than anything, with the right lover with the right scent, I have to choose the armpit, especially if it has a little bit of hair to capture the fresh sensual aroma.
6 - What is the next step for La Figa? Is there something you would like to explore more in depth or didn't get a chance to cover in your book?
Next, hmm, I’ve got plenty of plans to be honest. I want to do large installations with hundreds of people with food and the body. I want to do a documentary film, and I am already developing a TV show. I do live shows, which blow people’s minds. I just came up with a new concept that I am not going to talk about yet, but it is going to be spectacular. I am looking forward to continue spreading love, touch, and beauty in life, with a consciousness of being fair to nature, and true to ourselves.
There are plenty things that did not make it into La Figa: Visions of Food and Form, but there will be more books in the future. The one thing I really wish I had in the book though, is an essay explaining that La Figa is a great visual book to show to kids or teenagers as an introduction to the human form. With our models of different shapes, ages, and sizes – and especially with my food art – kids find a fun playful exploration of the human body, in a non-sexual context. Young people in this country go straight from puberty to pornography, because they have nothing in between to show the human form.
7 - If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the mouth is the window to...