I have held off posting this blog to give us a chance to get over such an incredible night. It’s so easy to say how fab it was etc, the day after but to still look back on it three days later with the same excitement and buzz is something else.
Sixty five for dinner is how I would describe it and after 260 gallery appearances this was probably one of the most nerve wrecking moments; working alongside Michelin starred chef James Mackenzie at his wonderful establishment The Pipe & Glass in an event organised by the wonderful Artmarket Gallery to completely overturn an Impossimal event. I’m talking of course of the Evening With The Impossimals, a ticketed event that took place on Thursday 21st May that ended with the unveiling of the latest and rarest Impossimal painting ‘The Secret Pantry’.
We wanted the event to feel as though we had invited friends over for dinner, it doesn’t matter if you own, like or want an Impossimal in your life to us you are part of our family and the night needed to be just so.
It all started off last November with a meeting and meal followed by an informal chat with James who’s drive and passion came through immediately. As a rule I don’t do commissions, each Impossimal is personal and has a story, trying to get a story for a commission is always difficult so I find it easier to just not attempt them. Not so in this case, James and his wife Kate have a wonderful story, it was this that made the piece so easy to conjure up in my mind.
The history of Pipe & Glass itself goes back hundreds and hundreds of years, even better an old recipe from the 1800’s was unearthed nearby and is now part of the menu offered here so I couldn’t really have a better start for material to work with.
On Thursday this is what we walked in to, sixty eight places for dinner spread over a dining room and conservatory immaculately laid out ready for our Impossimal inspired menu.
Each table had its own number and place setting along with a menu that hinted at the delights to come; who could resist ‘Rumbling Tumbly Treats’ or ‘Drinkydips’? and pretty soon the special coach we had provided arrived and our guests started the evening.
It got packed. Very packed and pretty soon everything was in full swing followed by a signing session with James and of course…
The reveal of the rare limited edition and original ‘The Secret Pantry’
I’ll tell you a little more about that later but during the night we had a few surprises along the way…
Every guest received the ‘Secret Pantry’ story, tightly bound as a memento of the night, not only that but each guest also received one of these…
…a small piece of the models used to create the painting or from our next project the GoGoDragon Knickerbockergloria which appears on the streets of Norwich later next month. Each guest was presented with a small ceramic plate created by Jayne which held a handmade clay model of food which was held in place by resin and numbered and signed. It comes from my love of the children’s television series Mr Benn in which he takes an item home from each adventure, I wanted to do that too for all our guests and it seemed to work well on the night.
Creating the model however was a different matter and it took nearly two weeks to get right.
Cardboard, paper, matchsticks, glue, clay and of course paint all went in to recreating an accurate scaled model of a room at the Pipe & Glass. Four lights were used to give depth and shadow along with a cut aperture to simulate the canvas size I was going to work on.
Once lit correctly over a hundred photos were taken with small adjustments to each until it all held together well through the lens of the camera. The final shots were taken and the painting began. Six weeks later it was complete. The two Impossimals are James and Kate, the whole world I have captured is a front of house and behind the scenes look combined with the magic and imagination that occurs not only in the kitchen but into everything they do together. A fitting painting for a perfect couple.
Meanwhile the original was snapped up and can be seen in it’s permanent home at The Pipe & Glass, a fitting reminder of a wonderful night.
And the story? Well yes, there is a story behind the piece, there is ALWAYS a story to be told…
Between 1853 and 1863 four volumes and seven pages of text went missing from a set of thirteen diaries written by a C.Dodgson, ripped out and discarded by unknown hands. The whereabouts of the missing pages remain a mystery but rumour has it that each page holds a secret, a secret that only reveals itself at the right place and time.
On the 1st March 2006 James and Kate stepped over the threshold of the Pipe & Glass to follow the dream of opening their own restaurant, steeped in history the building had been so neglected that some would say it’s heart had left many years earlier but James and Kate could feel something else in the building, a stirring of something special, something that seemed to reach beyond the years into their hearts.
Many months of hard work passed until one night totally exhausted they were awoken by the distinct smell of baking and the gentle sound of a hand whisk. Leaping out of bed the noise stopped and the smell disappeared, had it been a dream? Maybe, but once or twice a week this would occur, always in the dead of night, always accompanied by the most fantastical smells but no amount of looking could uncover the cause of the noise and the delightful aroma of fresh baking.
The renovations continued unabated, finally reaching the upper levels and the removal of years of paint and wallpaper in what is now the private dining room to reveal a further mystery. Underneath the wallpaper on a disused chimney breast was a small recessed square, very much like a door with no discernible way of being opened.
In 2007 a small piece of brown paper fell from between the pages of a book from the Beverley Archives Department of the Town Council when it was moving to a new building. That small page was a forgotten recipe, a recipe for East Yorkshire Sugar Cakes. James was contacted to see what he thought about the recipe and it was bought back to the Pipe & Glass where it was easily translated apart from a few places where it referred to a half-hoof measurement, accompanying the recipe was an additional item, a very, very small ornate key.
In 1822 a lady named Eliza Acton wanted to be a poet. To be a poet though you need a poets writing desk and that is just what she purchased, an ancient fold down bureau from a country estate auction and had it delivered home the very next day.
Eliza started to place all her writing equipment in the bureau but noticed that the left had drawer was prone to sticking but one good hard tug later the drawer flew open and a small square of paper dropped to the floor. Carefully she opened the paper square; concealed in its folds was a small ornate key, so small that it fitted no lock on the desk, the paper however was a recipe for jam tarts that used a unknown unit of measurement; the half-hoof.
A week later Eliza was sat one fine afternoon writing away when she noticed a small wisp of smoke rise up from behind the desk accompanied by the unmistakable smell of fresh baking. Fearing that the desk may be on fire, immediately she starts searching for the cause finally pulling out the drawers in her search.
In the gloom right at the back of the sticking drawer she spies a small circle of light, reaching in it felt warm to the touch and in the shape of a very small ornate keyhole.
She remembered the key; reaching right to the back she places the key in the hole and turns it. There is a click and the back of the desk starts to swing open. Slowly she peers around the back and is amazed by what she finds; a miniature kitchen complete with the smallest Cantering Caketacular Queen Of Bakes baking a cake, not only is it just creating and baking it’s also recording everything on little slips of paper that it stores in a neighbouring miniature room.
This spectacular creature had no equal in the kitchen, not only did it know how to bake but it also built great baked sculptures such as the Totemcake, six different cakes balanced one on top of each other decorated with a large heart shaped Victoria sponge.
The Queen of Bakes lived with Eliza for many years and over time revealed its secrets including the elusive half hoof measurement. Each recipe the Queen Of Bakes created was carefully recorded and went back many scores of years. Eliza eventually catalogued each and every recipe the Queen of Bakes had recorded. The half hoof was eventually turned into the table spoon measurement and very soon the first ever collection of recipes aimed at the domestic reader rather than chefs with the inclusion of weights and cooking times was published in a format that survives to this day.
Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton was published in 1845 and inspired the Book of Household Management published in 1861, Isabella Beetons formidable tome for the Victorian household.
When Eliza passed away in 1859 the bureau and indeed the Queen of Bakes could not be found, the original contents and recipes also disappeared in the mists of time.
The battered recipe for East Yorkshire Sugar Cakes from 1812 is the only surviving original Cantering Caketacular Queen Of Bakes recipe, confirmed by the use of the half-hoof measurement but a strange thing happened when it was bought back to the Pipe & Glass. That night the whisking noises and the strange comforting baking aromas in the middle of the night seemed exceptionally strong, Just after one’o’clock in the morning a small light was seen to be coming from the side of the small recessed square in the private dining room.
It was a keyhole.
James took the key found with the old recipe and placed it into the hole, it fitted perfectly and a faint click was heard as it turned and the square revealed itself to be a door.
James & Kate never spoke about what they saw beyond the small door only that they had found the heart of the house where all their hopes, dreams and memories had been collected, a magical wondrous place radiating a warmth and comfort that made sure that the Pipe & Glass was never ever again seen as cold and neglected only as warm and welcoming as the couple that made it so.
Remember at the beginning of this story we mentioned some missing diary pages?
On the back of the small door was a pasted single page ripped from a diary, on it was a story called ‘The Secret Pantry’, it was signed C.Dodson or Charles Dodson, far better known as Lewis Carroll.
The Pipe & Glass is just the start of a story; Wonderland is real, there are pieces of it everywhere, you just need to know where to find it and now we have found the first missing part of Wonderland, many more will surely follow.