Behind the Scenes at the DAM

dDIY #10: Make a Meal from Van Gogh’s Last Home

In preparing for our exhibition Becoming Van Gogh, we came across the book Van Gogh’s Table, which shares the history and the recipes of the Auberge Ravoux.

Below (and in this PDF) are two recipes we sampled from the book, with our own notes—about our triumphs and our tears—added in. For dDIY #10, your mission is to make a meal from Van Gogh’s last home. Channel the spirit of Van Gogh with a serving a soup and soufflé!

Vincent van Gogh arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small village west of Paris, in May, 1890. He spent the last few months of his life in this town, painting and drawing a prolific portfolio of over 70 works. While in Auvers, he stayed at the inn Auberge Ravoux. This is where Van Gogh slept and ate, enjoying the French countryside. Van Gogh was drawn to the town’s surrounding landscape, creating numerous paintings of both the local pea and wheat fields. In Field with Wheat Stacks, we can see Van Gogh’s signature energetic and rhythmic brushstrokes. It was to be one of Van Gogh’s very last paintings.

 

Van Gogh also drew a lot of inspiration from life in cafés, like the one in the Auberge Ravoux. As described by Dr. Fred Leeman, former chief curator at the Van Gogh Museum, during Van Gogh’s time many artists’ lives centered around the café: “For an artist who has neither family nor a home he can call his own, the café or auberge is where he sleeps, takes his meals, drinks, dreams and drinks again. It is where he meets friends, artists like himself, and engages in discussions on art and life. It is a public place that assumes the face of privacy.” (page 33-34)

 The recipes in Van Gogh’s Table are ones served in the café, along with other meals of the 19th-century French countryside. Our education staff decided to dabble in preparing some French cuisine in a nod to Van Gogh and the spirit of creativity.

Pea Soup with Bacon (Soupe de Pois cassies au Lard)

Summarized version from Van Gogh’s Table, page 147 (6-8 servings)

The recipe for this dish explains that the region of Auvers was filled with pea fields, serving as a basis for many dishes (and also some of Van Gogh’s paintings). Recipe made by Jaime Kopke, manager of adult and college programs.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I substituted olive oil)
  • 4 ounces of diced smoked slab bacon (I went for good ol’ fashioned bacon here and admit to upping the quantity by several ounces)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 pound split peas, rinsed
  • 9 cups water (I cut back on this just because I like my soup thicker—maker’s choice!)
  • 3 leafy sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and ground pepper

Heat the oil over medium heat and sauté onions, carrot and bacon. (Probably because I chose regular bacon over slab bacon, I had a difficult time cooking these together. If you go bacon like me, I say cook that first to make sure it cooks.) Cook for about 10 minutes, then add peas, water, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and skim the foam from the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the peas have dissolved, about 1 ½ hours. Remove bay leaves and thyme (my thyme kind of just dissolved as well), allow soup to rest before serving. Reheat, add chicken broth, milk, or water if the soup is too thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Crème Anglaise (Le Fondant au Chocolat et sa Crème Anglaise)

Summarized version from Van Gogh’s Table, page 196-197 (8-10 servings)

Recipe made by Molly Nuanes, special projects coordinator. Molly is a serious baker, so we knew she was up to the task of taking on a soufflé at high altitude.

Cake ingredients

  • 7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (50-70% recommended)
  • 9 ounces (1 stick plus one tablespoon) unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup flours, sifted
  • 1-2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Sauce ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar

Cake preparation:

Melt chocolate and butter—take off heat when butter is almost melted and stir to smooth. Llet cool slightly while doing next steps. In separate bowl, lightly beat eggs, add sugar, and mix for 2 minutes. Add egg-sugar mixture to chocolate, and stir until completely mixed. Gradually add sifted flour to chocolate, stirring until smooth. Place on baking sheet and put into pre-heated 400-degree oven—here’s where there are some altitude issues, as Denver is 5,280 feet high in elevation—I baked for an extra 6 minutes (so 41 minutes instead of the recommended 35) and the top cooked before the middle. According to Google and high-altitude baking rules, I should have added an extra tablespoon of flour, reduced the oven by 25 degrees to 375, and baked for longer. Let cool for 2 hours on wire rack, refrigerate overnight.

Crème anglaise preparation:

Scrape vanilla bean—definitely use the bean and not extract; it is more expensive, but worth it for the flavor. Add vanilla bean and seeds to milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and remove vanilla bean. Mix eggs yolks and sugar in a bowl, and temper with ½ cup hot milk mixture by slowly adding and stirring in. Add egg mixture into hot milk over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. After 5 minutes, test doneness by running your finger across the back of the spoon. If the line stays, the crème is ready. If you overcook, the eggs will curdle, so be mindful.

Recipes and quotes from: Leaf, Alexandra, and Fred Leeman, “Van Gogh’s Table at the Auberge Ravoux,”Artisan: New York, 2001. This book is available from Denver Public Library (and hopefully your local library too!).

Find dDIY #1-9 on the Denver Art Museum Collective Tumblr page.

Jaime Kopke is the adult and college program manager in the education department at the Denver Art Museum. She has been with the DAM since 2011 and is always scouting for community creatives to collaborate with for A&C programs. Send her an email.