Chicken Fesenjān / Karl Bayly
Photographed by Ophelia King
Karl Bayly is a long time artist and recent maker of food. He grew up on a farm in the Waikato just outside of Matamata, more commonly referred to as 'The Shire’. A self described ‘Black Sheep’ of the family, life on the farm allowed for a different kind of play and exploration, which seems to have been unconsciously very informative. .
I first came across Karl via the unique lamps he makes out of sand and other bits of earth under the name Bad Lamps. These were sold through Melody Goods at the Cross St Market. I eventually met Karl in person while he was working at Coffee Pen. Over the counter I enjoyed our brief chats and his dry sense of humour. I was introduced to another creative side to Karl when I joined friends to visit his exhibition “If we opened me up we would find beaches” at RM Gallery in Auckland. Not long after I was buying jars of his carrot and orange marmalade titled Bad Jam, and during the most recent Auckland lockdown I bought and ate an entire chocolate tart courtesy of his new venture, Cooked Plates.
As an artist he finds it difficult to pin-point where it all the creativity came from "I don’t have one of the stories where I was surrounded by creativity and that has clearly informed who I am today". Similar to the freedoms of the farm, its seems to be an exploration, combined with an overactive imagination, a lack of direction and influence that guides the work he produces. "I’ve just always intuitively sought out some kind of creative outlet. I think everything just naturally feeds into everything else".
I enjoy his variation in mediums, likely drawn from not enjoying the feeling of being stuck doing one thing. Each medium he takes on a unique blend of refined, delicate, sarcastic eccentricity follows. A perfectionist with an inability to sit still. Very self critical with everything produced, with Bad Lamps as the exception. This is where a more free-styled approached is allowed, which is part of their unusual and reckless charm.
Karl has described himself and his work as a walking, and barely taking, bunch of contradictions. In his own words he describes his aesthetic as “Rock and roll…meets romance? A real mish mash, I'm taking pictures of elderly people's rose gardens and I’m listening to anything from Led Zeppelin or Bruce Springsteen to Charlie XCX, and Max Richter. My Spotify recommended playlists are pretty all over the show. Like I’m crying at the movie, but the movie is Fast and Furious you know?”
When it comes to comparing the food and the art, he is always thinking about one while doing the other. There is a lot of cross pollination between the two, they run on the same rhythms. Both come with trial and error and generally learning to trust your instincts, to know when to stop. As well as a plans failing, and accidents working.
His skills in the kitchen may appear as effortless as moulding lamps out of debris, but he told me very directly “be under no misconceptions that I've always been a good cook”, food has come later in life. As a kid he enjoyed the simple pleasures of his Mum’s lasagne, and rice pudding, a pudding he is still making for himself (and has been available through Cooked Plates). As a teen it was the relatable after school snack of English muffins, tinned spaghetti mixed with red onions and a lot of cheese. As a young adult food was merely fuel, not enjoyment. Today when it comes to favourites, he always comes back to Persian food. "The dishes feel like they are made with real love and attention, you can truly taste it, and there's always just a bit of magic in Persian food like when making tahdig”.
With Karls new venture, Cooked Plates, his food has not taken a particular direction, it is a coming together of experiments, a way to learn new techniques, a public test kitchen, if you will. Starting as a personal image library to remember what he had eaten, or was eager to make. This image library is thankfully public, and as of 6th November 2021 consists of #156 plates. The next one more impressive than the last, i.e plate #153, 100’s and 1000’s tart, is so visually satisfying I am not sure how anyone had the nerve to cut the first slice.
Cooked Plates is gently moving from the occasional numbered food post to include an occasional, weekly-ish pick up menu. The first five rounds have already included, but absolutely not limited to, treats like a dark chocolate coconut ganache and raspberry jam tart, whole blood orange cake, black Doris plum gelato, and a date and tahini ice cream, cheque please! Lockdowns did not just have Karl refining his baking and gelato making skills, but it has given him space to think about where Cooked Plates could go, working on ideas around pop up's, and what that could look like . No doubt he will be making the chairs and the tables too, because surprise, he is also a talented woodworker. I really look forward to seeing where Cooked Plates travels to, and what else follows.
A huge thanks to Karl and his partner Ophelia for finding the energy during this tiresome lockdown to create and photograph this recipe. I cannot wait to give it a go.
(Walnut and Pomegranate Stew)
“I just love it. It's a little sour, but the tang is so rich and delicious, served with sabzi polo (herb rice) with tahdig, and a simple garlic yogurt sauce. It's homely without compromising on a real depth of flavour.”
- Neutral oil or ghee
- 1/2 onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 C-ish walnuts
- 600g boneless skinless chicken thigh (from Grey Lynn Butcher)
- 2C chicken stock made from last night's roast chicken carcass
- 1/2t cinnamon
- 1/2t cardamom
- 1/4t turmeric
- 1/4t golpar (if you can find it)
- 8-10 saffron strands (steeped in 30ml hot water)
- Pomegranate molasse
1. Toast walnuts, let them cool, and then blitz in a blender.
2. Dice onions
3. Heat oil/ghee and fry chicken off on all sides with a little salt. You can do this in batches if need be and set aside.
4. Add onions into the same pan, and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add the garlic, and sauté with the onions for 2-3 minutes.
6. Add in all the spices.
7. Put the chicken back in the pan with the onions, garlic, and spices.
8. Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes.
9. Add in blended walnuts, saffron and pomegranate molasses and cook for 50min+ Chicken should be pretty much falling apart.
10. Serve with rice and a fresh side salad