Venetian Speculative Gastronomy.
One part meal and one part investigation, TideTables: Venetian Speculative Gastronomy casts food as a critical means with which to experience Venice and its lagoon. The table becomes a means with which to understand Venice’s past and present and to shape its future. Reflecting on watery worlds, we—a chef, a cultural historian, and a food designer—speculate answers to Elspeth Probyn’s question: “can we eat with the ocean?” In turn, we wonder: can Venice eat with the lagoon?
In and out and up and down, this meal shadows the rhythms of the tide to ask: What does it mean to eat with something? What does it mean to eat with the tide or against it? And can we invite the lagoon to the table? These questions relate to larger debates about how human appetites change climate and how climate change, in turn, influences human appetites.
A meal in four acts, it starts in Venice’s streets, goes out into the lagoon, returns to the human body, and ends with questions about the tourist body. From one dish to the next, a few central themes emerge: maintaining and restoring a balance between Venice and its environment; seasonal rhythms and cycles; the relationship between salt and time, between preservation and evolution; and the clash between appetites, food politics, and the Venetian lagoon.
Taking inspiration from salt’s double life as both a savior and a threat, this act imagines how to preserve Venice without fossilizing it. Salt executes order. It conducts how an ingredient’s flavors behave. Too little and it tastes like something is missing. Too much and drought spreads across one’s mouth. The human appetite for salt, as the anthropologist Margaret Visser points out, reveals that we are in fact “walking marine environments.” The sea is in our mouths, the lagoon on our tongues.
Borrowing from fermentation practices, this act considers the tension between transformation, heritage, and continuity. The fine balance between too much salt and too little. Furthermore, as in fermentation practices, the process and product is alive and constantly evolving. Just like salt, time itself is an ingredient.
This act will challenge boundaries of edibility. For many people, when their eyes see water their appetites crave fish, but what about plants? What does the barena (salt water marshes) taste like if we approach it through flora as opposed to fauna?
This act will explore a lagoon “in here” as opposed to one “out there” – an awareness of eating with or against the lagoon ecosystem. What role do humans play in this ecosystem? This also connects to discussions regarding nature, culture, and natureculture and will propose using food as a means to cultivate a sense of proximity and intimacy with the lagoon and its tide cycles.
This act will thematize tourist culinary imaginations of and interactions with Venice, approaching (over)tourism as a monoculture. It will also stage the provocative question/fear of imagining a local cuisine without locals. The dishes will represent the tension that exists in Venice’s contemporary dependency on tourism and to push the desires of visitors to eat like locals. This act’s name is an homage to the late promiscuous eater and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Encompassing various references, no reservations thinks about scarcity and dinner reservations as a competitive sport in tandem with local efforts against touristification
Marco Bravetti is a Venetian chef. Born and raised in Venice, he returned to the city after a few years of wandering through the streets and kitchens of London, São Paulo, and Copenhagen. After bringing his research to some notable restaurants of the lagoon, he founded TOCIA! – Cuisine and Community, a proactive collective born of interdisciplinary and convivial research. Through the languages, practices, ingredients, and rituals of food and cooking, TOCIA! investigates the lagoon’s landscapes and the human relationships that inhabit them.
L. Sasha Gora is a cultural historian and writer. In 2020 she received a PhD from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for the Humanities and Social Change at Università Ca’ Foscari. She has given talks at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, and elsewhere, and has penned articles for the likes of Gastronomica, VICE, BBC, and C Magazine. Her first book—Culinary Claims: A History of Indigenous Restaurants in Canada—is forthcoming.
Photography: Federico Botta
 Visser, Much Depends on Dinner, 115.
20 June 2021