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Commentary: Culinary arts should be recognized in the art world


Three of my favorite restaurants in our fair city stand out in my mind because of their incredibly talented chefs who I consider artists.

I searched for articles on food and art and found a great one by Elena Martinique. She says, "As a cornerstone of our very existence food has always played a significant part in our social and cultural lifestyles. Thus, it is no wonder that the depiction of food in art spans across cultures and all recorded human history. Appearing in myriad contexts, this practice stretches back to Ancient Greece and Rome where banquets and bacchanals were consuming passions celebrated in literature, paintings and mosaics. Drawings of food could also be found inside Egyptian pyramids."

Rob Connoley when describing his Bulrush Restaurant which he describes as rooted in Ozark cuisine asks, "What does it mean to be rooted in Ozark cuisine? Our team has spent a lifetime trying to answer this question. Through our research of family journals and letters from the early 1800s we have uncovered over 200 years of history. History that includes the bold families of indigenous people, enslaved residents and Euro-Appalachian immigrants that tamed the wild lands of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri (and tips of Oklahoma and Kansas).These are the people who defined what has become known as Ozark cuisine.”

When I met with Connoley, I asked him to tell me how creating his food is an art. He said," When I create new dishes, I can't help but think about flavor and aesthetics simultaneously. I don't do this because we live in an Instagram world where pretty food equals social media likes, but rather I know that beauty touches the soul as much, if not more, than a delicious spoonful. And with food a chef should be thinking in 3D about color, texture and light. These aspects should be included to lift up a dish, not merely for a pretty picture, and so you'll never find a random flower on our plates. All beauty must pull double duty in flavor and texture. Regardless of how fancy the meal, I love being able to express myself in a way that can be enjoyed by the masses that often don't find themselves in galleries or museums. It's truly an honor and a thrill to create beautiful food every night."

In "Feature of the Week" in "Art and Food," the article says that restaurants have been galleries for decades. In the decadent Mad Men era of the fifties and sixties, New York restaurants began buying and commissioning paintings to hang on the walls for the visual enjoyment of admiring diners. This trend has continued to the present day; Michael Roux told "The Independent" that the art hung in his restaurant “Le Gavroche” asks questions and feeds your mind, while we feed your body."

Michael Renner of "Sauce Magazine" in his review of Bernie Lee's "Akar" restaurant in Clayton says, "Bernie Lee has his own style. You notice it immediately upon entering Akar. His keen sense of design helps explain the sleek decor. A single sconce of flowers jutting out from the main wall textured and glazed in shades of gray; iron pipe-and-dark wood shelving displaying locally made plates, glassware and jar candles designed by Lee, set against a wall of subway tile; large fabric-like-metal chandeliers, handmade in Bali to Lee's specifications, hanging from a tin ceiling. Even the color and texture of the staff aprons convey Lee's sense of fashion."

Lee says, "Food is not just an art, it's absolutely qualified as art on numerous levels - growing, cooking and the presentation of food all qualify as art in my eyes. It is also connected to love, a sense of well-being and creates an intimate connection between souls. Till these days, I still think of my mom and grandmother as I take a bite of curry. It brings me a source of connection and comfort."

And then there is David Kirkland of Turn Restaurant in Grand Center who says," I am a DJ and a Chef. Art, music, sound and touch are part of my everyday life. When creating a menu item, I think about what vegetables are in season, what styles and herbs are trending in the culinary world. I set up my mise en place of pots, pans, knives, cutting boards all ready to cook.

“I take a bit of this, chop a little of that, simmer it all, stirring, boiling, creating a dish to satisfy hungry mouths.

Using ears to listen for timers and boiling pots, using my eyes to ensure everything is cooking properly and my hands to touch, stir and feel. A natural muscle memory.

“While DJ'ing I use the same muscle memory in a similar way. While selecting vinyl LP's or digital tracks, I organize different styles of music to curate a set list - a mise en place of beats and sounds. With two turn tables and a mixer, I will select tracks that blend and complement each other to create one sound that will make you dance and nod your head. Using my hands to cue, scratch and mix music. Again, a natural muscle memory.”

Yes, I think these chefs are artists of the highest ranking and that the culinary arts should be included in the art world.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards