Eat Your Art — Priceless Pork Belly at the Asian Art Museum

Chef Tim Luym’s grandmother, now 94, worries — as grandmothers do — about him getting enough to eat. When he visited her in the Philippines during summer break from Santa Clara University, she insisted (several times) on showing him how to make a dish that she’d made while he was growing up — made with pork trotters, shitake mushrooms or chestnuts when in season, either over rice or in a sandwich.

So when officials at the Asian Art Museum asked Luym to participate in the event, PORK, a tribute to the “meat-shaped stone,” a piece of jasper carved to resemble pork belly in the current Emperors’ Treasures exhibition, he immediately thought of his grandma’s dish. That dish meant comfort to him, and it’s basically what he’s making for the event, he says, presented with a little more finesse.

“It’s a Chinese sauce with tangerine peel and cloves,” he says. “Then I’m using Carolina rice to sort of make it both America and Chinese. There’s scallions and ginger and quail eggs and the shitake mushrooms. They really soak up the sauce. Then there’s Chinese chives to finish it off.”

[jump] A couple months ago, Luym traveled to the National Palace Museum in Taipei to see the meat-shaped stone there, where it’s one of the most popular objects in the collection. A long line snakes by it, so Luym kept going back and joining the queue so he could get a good look at it. He was expecting a giant stone, but the carving is, well, the size of a piece of pork belly, like something he would cook at home.

Luym liked the story of how the meat-shaped stone was inspired by a song.

“Everyone calls it food porn now, but that’s basically what it was,” he said. “It couldn’t be shared on Instagram, but the guy wanted to make piece of pork, and now people travel around the world to see it.”

Luym, chef at the upcoming Buffalo Theory will present his take on pork belly at the event along with chefs Dennis Lee from Namu Gaji, Curtis Lam of The Chairman, and Mariko Grady, founder of Aedan Fermented. Besides their presentation, curatorial assistant Jamie Chu will lead a tour of the food-related items in Emperors’ Treasures. Some of the items she plans to show include the tea bowl with the hare’s fur glaze, an album showing illustrations of farming and where whisk tea, and Emperor Kangxi’s appreciation for the 66 bottles of wine given to him by a Jesuit.

The meat-shaped stone is an ingenious piece, Chu says, using a technique called natural carving, meaning little was done to the stone. The artist saw the jasper, was reminded on a piece of pork belly and decided to make it into art, with little dying or carving needed.

Chu says looks forward to highlighting the relationship between food and art.

“I consider cooking an art form,” she said. “Both cooking and art benefit from the exchange of ideas.”

PORK, July 7, 6:00 pm, Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St, $5-$15, 415-581-3500

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