Home Magazine MeetMe#14 | In conversation with Brendan Becht

The history of collecting art reminds of an immense constellation formed by thousands of stars and planets; each one is unique in its profile, size, and composition. Thanks to the various people that have collected (or simply taken care of) art in the past and in the present, we now get to appreciate various art collections, temporary projects, monuments, and artworks donated to the community. 

In this new #MeetMe section, we will present you a broad panorama of art promoters, with the objective of inspiring you. From the last articles, we noted two important similarities amongst our interviewees: the importance of a personal relationship with the artists and an initial journey characterized by small investments. Following these two elements, we have chosen as our new protagonist Brendan Becht, better known as the "Chef Collector". Related article: When food and fashion becomes fine art...

Brendan is what one could call a "son of art". Born in the Netherlands in a family of art collectors, Brendan started his career as a cook at a very young age. He worked all over the world with famous chefs, such as Michel Bourdin, Pierre Hermé, Alain Senderens, and Gualtiero Marchesi. In 2013, he opened Zazà Ramen in Milan (Italy), a restaurant where the traditional Japanese ramen is given a contemporary twist, combining Japanese ingredients with local fresh produce. This results in colorful and tasteful dishes with attention to detail. Every six months, and since the opening of Zazà, Brendan hosts a site-specific art project in his restaurant, inspired by his Cuisine and personal taste in art.  
Looking at your professional career, we immediately notice your love for research and creativity, as well as your fascination in discovering different cultures. All of these interests perfectly match with the art world. As nothing happens by chance, it seems important to mention that your life is marked by the presence of your family's art collection. Could you tell us something about this collection? More specifically, what did you learn from your parent's activity? Maybe you have a specific memory that you would like to share with us? 

There are often two driving forces at the basis of collecting art: curiosity and coincidence. In the past, these elements influenced my parents’ art collection and, nowadays, they inspire me when I look for artists to collaborate at Zazà Ramen. Becoming an art collector is the result of encounters and experiences. For me personally, this started at a young age, as I grew up in a stimulating environment where I was constantly surrounded by artists, who used to come to my parents’ house a lot. In other words, art has been ingrained in me since I was a child. 
For my parents, collecting art didn’t mean building an art collection with a set structure or around a particular style; it was the result of personal experiences, surprising encounters, and unexpected turns of events. Their collection wasn’t mapped or projected with a specific goal in mind; it came to life bit by bit. Their incentive was simply the wish to live with art. Collecting art shouldn’t be a battle with history, with the objective to influence the art world and people’s taste, but a summary of history with all its randomness and coincidences. You asked me to share a specific memory related to my parents’ activity, but there are so many. I have a series of memories of events of artists coming to our house for lunch or dinner in the sixties and seventies. My parents would sit with them and, since I wanted to become a cook from a young age, I would cook for them. This is why, for me, art and food are so interconnected. I have always associated living with art with sharing a meal and a conversation.


Frits Becht in conversation with Lucio Fontana, 1967. photo© Ad Petersen


Since the first site-specific works by David Tremlett, all the artistic projects that you've hosted in your restaurant resulted from a continuous dialogue with the artists. Before organizing a new exhibition, you usually invite the artist to come and explore the restaurant. This includes observing the location, but also tasting the food from your menu, in order to understand your cooking philosophy. How you do choose the artists and how you do you create projects with them? 

The choice of artists is instinctive and coincidental. Anything, from an exhibition to an encounter can prompt me to invite an artist. One crucial quality that I always seek in an artist is a shared feeling of wanting to be surrounded by good art whilst having a pleasant meal in a nice restaurant. Indeed, when you are having lunch or dinner, alone or with friends, you want to be in an agreeable environment. A Zazà, I try to create a welcoming atmosphere where people are surrounded by good art and good food. My objective is to give pleasure through taste and I believe that visual art indirectly contributes to that. Art is my passion and, just like food, I see it as a strive for refinement and quality. In my opinion, the artistic commitment is the same behind art and food.


Zazà Ramen noodle bar and restaurant during the exhibition of Rafael Y. Herman


Starting from the left Brendan Becht and Rafael Y. Herman


In a previous interview, you mentioned that art can be an effective mind therapy. Many studies have been conducted on this topic, proving indeed that art can help people improve their mental health. This is also valid in the cooking world. Could you talk a little more into depth about this subject, perhaps by including your personal culinary training or some specific art project that you curated?

Wanting to be surrounded by art comes from the simple desire to live with beauty. In particular with contemporary objects, which are exciting and thought-provoking. I recently read this article about the positive impact of art on people’s health. In Canada, doctors can now prescribe to their patients a visit to fine art museums, as a way to improve their wellbeing. I would love it if doctors in Italy could prescribe a meal at Zazà with the same objective (laughs). I just believe good food combined with good art can give people energy and brighten up their mood. At least, it works for me!

Finally, it would be interesting to talk about the future of Zazà Ramen’s art projects. Are you considering how this exhibition format could evolve? Is there anything we can anticipate?

For the moment I continue following my program, which consists of inviting twice a year a contemporary artist to use the space in my restaurant to exhibit their work. This can take many forms. In the past, we have seen that works made directly on the main wall of the restaurant, such as wall paintings or wall drawings, work very well (like Matteo Ceretto Castigliano, Jan van der Ploeg, and Job Koelewijn) but this doesn’t mean that other forms of visual art, such as photography, don’t work well too. At the moment, for example, there is a beautiful photographic work by the Israeli artist Raphael Y. Herman exposed at Zazà. This autumn, I will host the Italian artist Marco Andrea Magni, who proposed an exciting sculptural project constructed around the theme of conviviality and the importance of “pure matter”. Overall, one thing I want to keep in mind for future projects is the essential objective of these initiatives; to be surrounded by art without being overwhelmed by it. The exposed artworks should be prominent but not in an aggressive or intrusive way. In a nutshell, the art adds to the culinary experience, it enhances the pleasure of having a meal at Zazà Ramen. 

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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