My meals are my creative outlet preview
Day X in collective solitude during this global pandemic:
Being isolated on my own I have been thinking a lot about being alone,
the fine line between solitude and loneliness,
the power of both to pull you down or uplift you –
in all those weeks
I have been feeling both at the same time.
I love to be by myself,
NY can be, has been isolating in normal times –
I have fallen in love with the city more once I stopped feeling lonely and instead understood that
living in NY means being on my own a lot just like everyone else
surrounded by all the choices and opportunities the city offers.
Being alone is my independence, my balance to the many art events,
gallery openings and decadent dinner parties.
Just that now, there are no more choices.
With quarantine in effect,
I was excited to be working from my apartment for a change.
Grateful to have a routine, lucky for having a job
as opposed to many of my friends in the fashion and restaurant industry.
My silver bistro table at the kitchen window is my favourite spot to eat when I’m home – it is now also my only place to have a meal.
Nevertheless, I soon came to realize that I wasn’t at ease at all,
my sleep pattern was a mess, my adrenaline high.
But, as we were rotating through the weeks, losing track of time,
I came to a point where I realized that I did not want the quarantine to end just yet –
I had found some weird kind of comfort in the daily monotony;
what initially was mentally challenging
evolved into methodical resilience.
Knowing that there is no ‘going back to Normal’
until late May the now seemed temporary, still unreal and therefore bearable.
With a reopening in sight,
I felt I had not used all this time efficiently,
I should have really accomplished something,
being more productive and creative; working on my book.
NY has taught me to embrace solo dining like no other place I have lived before,
sitting at a restaurant bar changed my view of experiencing a meal.
Ingredient-focused, small dishes, meant to be shared, are also perfect for eating alone.
I tend to go back to the same places; where the waiter knows my favorite wine,
chefs have become friends;
this is being a local in NYC.
It is those loose connections that make the city what it stands for, essential for the individual;
as a regular you become part of a family of strangers.
My silver bistro table at the kitchen window is my favourite spot to eat when I’m home
– it is now also my only place to have a meal.
Preparing food my way is what keeps me balanced in normal times
this daily moment to myself is always special,
it has become my routine over the past year to take a picture of my bowl of food
with my morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening.
What was I going to do with all those pictures?
I had asked myself this question many times.
Other than a short-lived appearance on my IG stories,
my photo scroll would probably be longer than the NY marathon.
I did not see myself making a cookbook, there are no recipes,
I’m also not a photographer; so, what was my message?
It was Julien who had been following my ‘stories’ for a while
who wrote me on March 16th when the world was turning up-side down.
I would love to make a book of your pictures, he wrote.
He was fascinated by the constant repetition in my pictures.
The Silver Table, the bowl, ‘the personal and raw’, my signature.
What has evolved into a beautiful, creative exchange since then,
not knowing each other, him being isolated in Rotterdam, me in Brooklyn,
started on a random Monday I will never forget.
Just to remind myself that this isn’t the purpose at all I get back to my flow, combining ingredients, creating images that I eat.
My meals are my creative outlet where I focus on flavor,
color and texture that goes beyond making something nourishing and delicious;
the part of taking the picture from that moment is equally important to me.
It is often that I create a dish visually in my mind
with the ingredients I have or feel go well together that day, just like choosing my outfit.
While my cooking and preparation of food is very simple,
using mostly not much else other than olive oil, salt and pepper as condiments,
for me ingredients are components of colors and textures
that come into play with the flavors to create a dish.
Too many elements visually confuse me,
using only the minimum of ingredients is what gives me comfort,
making each one shine is what excites me.
This may sound like the opposite to comfort food in a common sense,
but it is the aesthetic process that is equally nurturing my mind.
During quarantine, as we are all cooking more than ever without much choice,
for most of us, preparing food has become a way to compensate for the stress and anxiety.
I did not try any of the recipes which soon became quarantine trends;
instead I focused on my routine to be more constant than ever:
my table, where I create and express myself every day,
the bowl, my companion, embracing my food.
At times the self-imposed constraint felt like an extension of lockdown in my own terms.
While most meals are little celebrations,
random or ordinary,
beautiful to me,
on some days pleasure is also pressure;
forcing myself to be creative, to come up with an interesting dish
to get the best picture,
losing the immediate, spontaneous approach.
Just to remind myself that this isn’t the purpose at all
I get back to my flow,
combining ingredients, creating images that I eat.
Changing my focus quietly, looking at things from a new perspective that is uncomfortable and confusing I try to find peace and joy in this moment in history where the world is weaving itself together in a new way.
The times are racing – yesterday’s news feels old in an instant.
We all have changed, going through this crisis together, separately;
it still was a distant thought to return to the city that sure will be different;
just when things took another turn with the killing of George Floyd,
after weeks of silence people are taking over the streets,
united more than ever, showing up for each other in solidarity.
The air is charged with a new energy, NYC has transformed into a city of protesters
– the pandemic seems forgotten although we are still living in quarantine.
With NY and the rest of the world in a state of civil unrest
I took a break from posting my food pictures on social media.
While I kept my usual routine of taking the picture for the book I noticed a change in myself:
After being alone for all this time but virtually sharing every meal
I suddenly was more relaxed, simply enjoying my meal.
Changing my focus quietly,
looking at things from a new perspective that is uncomfortable and confusing
I try to find peace and joy in this moment in history
where the world is weaving itself together in a new way.
Dedicated to this time in NYC,
my images are a collection of moments, meant to inspire, to see beauty in my very personal way.
This article was published under the open call Food in the time of Covid. We asked people to send in stories that explore dimensions of food and life under a period of uncertainty and lockdown in 2020. Learn more about it here.
About the author
Christiane Büssgen is a designer based in Brooklyn, NY, working as a manager for Property, a high end furniture showroom in Tribeca. Originally from Germany she has lived in several countries before moving to NYC in 2016. She is currently working on her first publication The Silver Table Book with Julien Baiamonte, a graphic designer based in Rotterdam – a collaboration which started during the pandemic.
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