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Mirka & Georges: 'A Culinary Affair'

In Print

There are no two figures more influential in the development of art and food in Melbourne that Mirka and Georges Mora. Arriving in Australia in 1951 from Paris, the boisterous and bohemian couple opened lively restaurants and hosted debaucherous  parties populated by a revolving door of eccentric, rich, famous and creative crowds. Mirka, of course, went on to become one of the most influential artists in Australian history.

Launched in the year of Mirka’s 90th birthday, Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair arrived at our office about a month ago, rather symbolically, the day before Mirka passed away. Co-authored by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan, seniors curators at Heide Museum of Modern Art, the publication is part cookbook, part scrapbook, part family album, weaving the history of Mirka and Georges with the couple’s French recipes, alongside relics from their fabulous lives, Mirka’s artwork and images of her studio by photographer Robyn Lea.

Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair is a truly spectacular illustration of lives well lived by the Moras. Today, we’re sharing an edited extract from the forward written by their sons Philippe, William and Tiriel Mora.

29th September, 2018

Mirka at Mirka Café, circa 1954. Photo – Unknown photographer, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Photo – Robyn Lea, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Mirka and Georges at Tolarno French Bistro with artist Murray Walker, circa 1967. Photo – photographer unknown, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Mirka’s beautiful kitchen. Photo – courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Photo – Robyn Lea, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Photo – Robyn Lea, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Mirka Mora, Little Girl Dreaming of Red Birds, 2014, oil on canvas,95x180cm, private collection, Melbourne. Photo –  courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Portrait of Mirka with sons Tiriel, William and Phillipe. Photo – photographer unknown, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Photo – Robyn Lea, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Mirka at the Balzac with one of her drawings, circa 1958. Photo – Robyn Lea, courtesy of The Miegunyah Press.

Philippe Mora with William Mora and Tiriel Mora
Saturday 29th September 2018

‘Children  are  normally  embarrassed  by  their  parents  anyway,  but  Mirka  added  a  new  level  of  sometimes  risqué  farce.’

My steak tartare isn’t cooked and where is the sauce?

Our  parents’  extraordinary  life  stories  continue  to  surprise  my  brothers  William  and  Tiriel,  and  me  …  Reality  keeps  surpassing  all  the  legends,  gossip,  tall  tales  and  press  stories.  One  thing  that  continually  irritated  us  was  the  press  and  people’s  reactions  to  our  mother’s  public  high  jinks.  Children  are  normally  embarrassed  by  their  parents  anyway,  but  Mirka  added  a  new  level  of  sometimes  risqué  farce.  In  retrospect  it  was  her  comment  on  and  send-up  of  1950s  Melbourne.  It  was  as  if  an  R.  Crumb  cartoon  had  been  inserted  into  John  Brack’s  Collins  St.,  5p.m.  (1955)  painting.  The  paint  would  melt,  the  canvas  bend!

My brothers and I grew up in what turned out to be an incredible Australian petri dish of artists, actors, musicians, political figures, writers, celebrities and nobodies. Our parents’ intimate friends became Australian cultural icons —Charles Blackman, John Perceval, Arthur and David Boyd, Joy Hester, John and Sunday Reed, Fred Williams, and the list goes on. As kids we knew some of them as fantastically entertaining clowns who would have made Chaucer blush. Some lit their farts, to our total astonishment, or did spectacular fire-eating by blowing a mouthful of turpentine on a match.

Back to Mirka and Georges: the central thing to understand is that the Holocaust was the formative experience of their lives. They never burdened us with it, rarely if ever mentioning it for years. Their way of dealing with it was an exemplary joie de vivre celebrating their survival by emphasising art, food and love. It was the joy of survival expressed in extolling the best the mind and senses have to offer. It was a fantastic middle finger to Nazi ideology, but we didn’t know this subtext. When I asked my father when I was twelve if we were Jewish, he only did a subtle double take. ‘Yes,’ he said, and I said, ‘OK, then I want a bar mitzvah.’ A week after my bar mitzvah at the East Melbourne Synagogue with an audience of our mostly Christian, atheist or pagan friends, the rabbi won the lottery. Georges, an atheist, said, ‘Maybe there is something to this Jewish thing.’

We kids never thought of ourselves as immigrants. In fact, we were more Aussie than most kids who would come to us—as we were worldly authorities in primary school—with questions like: ‘What is a lesbian?’ Mirka had of course thoroughly briefed us. Precociousness can be dangerous, and when I called my principal a lesbian she broke a ruler over my head. Still, she moved me up a class. William and Tiriel had similar scrapes. We were the kids who knew too much about food, art and sex.

We are biased, but we feel Mirka and Georges have had an incalculable but enormous effect on Australian culture. We are not alone. Baillieu Myer famously said our father ‘made Melbourne a city’. Max Harris praised Georges as a key cultural catalyst. In an absurdly misogynist society Mirka cut a swathe for all women—artists and writers in particular. Her humour, ghastly to us at the time, was a sword that cut hypocrisy deep.

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan have done the impossible. They have distilled a huge, unwieldy saga into a clear narrative. They have, in an ode to their subject, turned a vineyard into a cognac.

This is an edited extract from ‘Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair’ published by Melbourne University imprint, The Miegunyah Press.  ‘Mirka & Georges: A Culinary Affair’ is now available to purchase at all good bookstores.

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