Eating with Artists: Tom Polo
Tom Polo and I had been meaning to have a chat for Eating With Artists for a while. When you're as obliging as Tom is, but life includes a committed work regime, and involvement on various committees and advisories, it can be a juggle to fit everything in.
We finally found a day to meet at his Alexandria studio, and thought we might walk out afterwards to find some lunch close by.
Tom's works, some complete and in transit, and also in various stages of completion sit neatly against the walls and on the floor. At first look, poster bright and arresting, the figures, faces, floating limbs, and bright mid-chat lips, sidelong glancing eyes and hidden messages floating within, escape conclusions. Some are life size, others slightly larger or slightly smaller. All are colourful, and like Klein, you could almost coin the term 'Tom Polo blue', a distinct marine that is his alone.
Stick around, and you begin to connect with relationships and slippery insecurities, tensions and dynamics of humans and their spaces.
Tom's bold abstractions create a tangle of heightened, and yet subtle humour, wonder, doubt, and longing......amongst other emotions. Which emotions and why, are they in our head but connecting to what we see?
The forms of uncertain relationships which most humans experience in interactions, forced-upon encounters and intimacies are quirky, sometimes tremulous scenarios, and other times bold.
Words, whole and partial that emerge and disappear in and around shapes and colours leave you wondering like the spoken word so often does: what did they mean by that?
But enough looking, says Tom, pulling me away and up the stairs of this building of various artist studios on a busy Alexandria road. 'You must see the view from the roof-top!'. From the top of his studio's building we survey rusty corrugated roofs and grassy cracked concrete empty lots, building sites with swinging cranes and a world of busy industry.
Up here, Tom Polo is contemplative and questioning. It reminds me with a pang, surveying the burgeoning real estate around us that artists everywhere need practical spaces to work in, but also space to think and dream, speculate and formulate. Such spaces are becoming harder for artists to find in a city of inflated prices. Younger artists are often compelled to take rooms in closed for demolition buildings which are let at cheap prices but usually mean leaking roofs, damp and mouldy conditions, pest infestation and often for women, a lack of security in large, badly lit and partially abandoned buildings. A reality for many a city artist.
We both decide lunch on this day is rather forgettable, a mediocre Vietnamese which shall remain nameless, and opt to try our luck with Kylie Kwong's newest place, her project of the heart- Lucky Kwong at South Everleigh.
We meet well before opening time on a cold Sydney morning to ensure we get a table. Already deep in conversation, Kylie Kwong welcomes us at opening time into her new space, perfectly outfitted in cork and forged steel, with a fabulous suspended sculpture by her partner Nell hanging above the dining space.
Over signature silky steamed prawn dumplings, simple but perfect Hokkien noodles and red braised beef brisket, Tom and I talked lots more, and enjoyed what all the hype over Lucky Kwong's was about.
I finally asked Tom my token three questions:
What is a quick and easy go-to dish you cook?
I like to make my lunch at the studio. I'll bring ingredients like a red cabbage and chickpeas to make a salad to go with some left overs.
Or a quick Pasta Aglio Olio with Anchovy Crumb which I learnt from my mum. I'll share that recipe with you!
What's your secret 'guilty pleasure' food?
A very good potato chip, it's got to be a hand cut chips. Okay, okay .... lime and pepper flavoured chips or salt and vinegar, but not any old brand- I'd rather not eat them, unless they are a good brand.
Food pet peeves, Tom?
Overpriced Italian food with too many bells and whistles. Keep it simple!
Some of your favourite places to eat?
Boon Cafe in Haymarket. I could eat here always! The flavours are punchy and so delicious. Love the Larb Gai and Som Tum
1/425 Pitt St, Haymarket NSW 2000
Phu Quoc in Cabramatta - Fresh! Lots of herbs and consistently good. Hands down some of the best nem/spring rolls in Sydney.
11/117 John St, Cabramatta NSW 2166
Here's Tom's favourite family recipe of Spaghetti Ala Olio, learned from his mother. As an Italian family that has always enjoyed home grown veggies and fruit, tastes are true, and simplicity is of the essence, letting ingredients speak for themselves. I cooked this last night, and we enjoyed the flavours so much.
Pasta Aglio Olio with Anchovy Crumb
500g of your favourite pasta ( I love this dish with Angel Hair pasta but anything will do)
6 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
a generous glug of olive oil ( yes, ‘glug’ is an official measurement)
chilli flakes to taste
freshly cracked black pepper
1 and a half tablespoons dried oregano
2 cups of dried breadcrumbs (packet is fine, homemade if you can be bothered or if you’re a show off)
6 anchovy fillets, chopped finely
1 cup chopped parsley
2 cups Italian cheese (Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), grated
•Boil a saucepan of salted water and once boiled, add your pasta
•Whilst the pasta is cooking, place your olive oil in a large fry pan until heated
•When the oil is hot, place your garlic, chilli, oregano and black pepper into the fry pan and immediately remove from heat. The oil should be sizzling, the heat frying the garlic, chilli and oregano
•Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and saving a cup and a half of pasta water
•In a separate frypan, add a small splash of olive oil. On low heat, add in your chopped anchovies and stir as they break down. Add your dried breadcrumbs and some black pepper. Stir your breadcrumbs continuously (they will brown quickly!) Then add your parsley and stir through. Once breadcrumbs are toasted, remove from heat and place aside.
•Add your cooked pasta to the large frypan, tossing it through the olive oil mixture. Add your grated cheese and toss through. Add your pasta water and continue to toss until silky.
To serve, place into individual bowls and sprinkle a generous serving of the anchovy breadcrumb mixture on top. Mix through as you eat!
Serve on the table with extra grated cheese, chilli flakes and black pepper as desired.
For the recipe, I'd measure at least a 2/3 cup olive oil where Tom calls for a 'glug'..........I felt like mine could have done with more oil, I'd only used 2 tablespoons.
I added lemon zest to my crumb, Tom suggests some lemon juice for acidity.
Tom Polo is represented by: