Globetrender first met Tasha Marks at the National Gallery in London, where she was doing a captivating talk on Renaissance sugar sculpture. Struck by her enthusiasm and deep knowledge of an extraordinarily niche subject, we went on to discover that, in addition to being a food historian, she is also a ground-breaking confectioner and trend forecaster. In looking to the past, she can predict the future and shifts in consumer tastes.
First, a bit of background. Tasha has diverse culinary interests ranging from 16th-century cabinets of curiosity to 1930s medicinal cookery. “The foundations of my ideas come from history but I always try to mix them with a contemporary twist. Confectionery is one of my great passions as it is truly timeless: nostalgia and novelty are powerful tools when used in an artistic context,” she explains on her website, AVM Curiosities.
What is AVM Curiosities?
AVM [which stands for animal, vegetable, mineral] Curiosities is my creative practice, which I founded in 2011 to explore the relationship between art and the senses. AVM Curiosities champions the use of food as an artistic medium, with projects ranging from museum-style exhibitions and sculptural installations to interactive lectures and limited-edition confectionery.
Why is it innovative?
By adding the senses to the gallery space you are playing with expectations, we speak in hushed tones in museums, and are told not to touch things in the gallery; so by adding food, smell and sound you are telling a story but you are also changing behavior, enhancing the ritual and making the whole experience performative. Not only do the paintings come to life, but the visitors often do to.
What does your work as a food and drink trend forecaster involve?
We are fortunate in the UK that for the most part we live in a culture of excess, so food trends are all about creating exclusivity where there is none. This can be an interesting place to be, as out of necessity, food and drink trends will be linked to wider influences on society.
Food and drink also has a cyclical nature, a rolling alternation of nostalgia and novelty so there’s usually some indication of the future if you look at the past. In my role as a trend forecaster I’ve worked with Diageo, Unilever and Cadbury, where I was on the now dissolved “Blue-Sky-Innovation-Upstream Future of Chocolate Team”.
What kinds of projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on an Aroma-Tour of the Dulwich Picture Gallery and a series of Scent Chambers based on 17th-century medicine for the Royal College of Physicians – so my studio has an interesting aroma at the moment.
In the past, projects have included Alabaster Ruins, a contemporary sugar sculpture taking inspiration from stone, marble and the banqueting tables of the Elizabethan Era, and combining a 17th-century “sugar-plate” recipe with cutting-edge 3D printing.
Describe your business model
My business model is a moveable feast – I prefer to have a business “ethos” rather than a business “plan”. I’m passionate about my subject, so when a gallery or museum commissions me, they get an engaged and dedicated collaborator.
If I had a company motto it would be simply that’s “it’s nice to be nice”. Hard work, great results and a positive attitude is my ultimate goal, the consequences being repeat business, new opportunities and the company growing by word of mouth.
What inspires you?
Renaissance sugar sculpture, friends and family – not necessarily in that order. Also I’m eternally grateful to [leading experts in multi-sensory experience design] Bompas and Parr, food historian Ivan Day and the sculptor Kate MccGwire for making me the creative I am today.
What is unique about food history?
Food history is so much more than olde mutton pye. It’s full of spectacle and splendor, of Renaissance banqueting houses and sugar castles that fire real sugar artillery. But it’s also a history of mankind, we all eat, we all have an appetite for the new and nostalgia for the old. Food history is timeless, it’s past present and future, and in my work I’m fortunate to get to cherry-pick the tidbits.
What trends do you predict for foods and flavours in the coming years?
A move towards more bitter flavours. But that’s all I’m saying for now…