Having just returned from Italy and a quick visit to Modena, I was reminded of an earlier visit there with my son Andrew, then 12 years old, back in November of 2003. We stayed at the lovely agriturismo Villa Gaidello just outside the city. Like now, there was a chill in the air. This simmering brodo eventually made its way into our bowls and our stomachs along with some wonderful tortellini. I could go for some of this right now.
If Albert Adria or his brother Ferran are not culinary artists than no one is. Here, in Spanish, he says that the question is ultimately up to the diner to answer.
I had filmed several other interviews, but alas, audio problems from trying to use some new equipment made them unusable. I hope that you have found this series as interesting to watch and listen to as I did asking the questions and filming. The video quality certainly could have and should have been much better, but I don't think that lessens what these individual culinarians had to say.
Few chefs are more eloquent and cerebral than Daniel Patterson of San Francisco's Coi and Il Cane Rosso and Oakland's Plum. Few chefs also make more beautiful, thoughtful and delicious food. He is also not afraid to say it as he sees it. Here are his thoughts about the place of Art in cooking.
Coming soon: Albert Adria gets la ultima palabra.
Matthias Hagglund of Elements Restaurant in Princeton, NJ, happens to be one of the craftiest and most creative mixologists I have yet had the pleasure of meeting. His beverages are products of great thought and consideration. The net results comprise a synergy of ingredients and magical cocktails. Here, he expresses his thoughts on whether food can be art. The question unasked, but equally pertinent, how about cocktails?
The other half of the creative team behind the wildly creative Cooking Issues (though Nastassia Lopez should be included there as well to make it a creative trio) along with Dave Arnold, who's response I have already posted, Nils Noren is the former Executive chef of Aquavit in NYC and current Vice President of Culinary Arts of The French Culinary Institute in NYC. He has serious chops in both the craft aspects of cooking and the creative realm. Once again, I apologize for the suboptimal focus of the video, but I think Nils' views are worth putting up with it for a brief period.
I know few chefs who plate more beautifully than Scott Boswell of Stella!and Stanley in New Orleans. Of course, in the world of food that means nothing if the pleasure of eating a dish does not at least match the beauty of a gorgeously plated dish. Boswell has that down too. In this short video he gives his opinion on whether or not food can be considered art as well as naming a chef who he considers "one of the greatest food artists of all time."
i don't know too many chefs who cook more artistically or better than Shola Olunloyo of the soon to open Speck and Studio Kitchen in Philadelphia. In this short video shot at the latest Starchefs International Chefs Congress in NYC, the wonderfully opinionated Chef Shola Olunloyo shares his views on whether cooking is solely a craft or whether it can aspire to art.
Last fall at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in New York City, I asked a few people from the culinary world the question that reflected the theme of the Congress, Is cooking just a craft, or can it be art? Unfortunately, I ran into some technical difficulties with my video equipment, but I did manage to record a few responses that I can share. While the quality of the video image is a tad unfocused, the perspective of Dave Arnold, the wunderkind gastroscientist of the French Culinary Institute in New York City and one of the folks behind the incredible foodblog, Cooking Issues, is just too good to not share.
I first noticed these wonderful little Australian citrus fruits in L.A. in early December. They appeared in dishes at a Wolvesmouth dinner, in cocktails at The Library Bar at The Roosevelt Hollywood Hotel and again at Providence, all to great effect, working like a burst of lime caviar to accent the dishes with both flavor and texture. Since then, I've noticed them n a number of menus and had them at Roberta's in Brooklyn. I bought some at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. The limes in the photo are some of the last remaining from my purchase. They held up well as I used them yesterday in a dish of piquillo peppers stuffed with turkey, chevre, saffron, peas and citrus and covered with Hollandaise. I would not be in the least surprised to see finger limes become the hot ingredient of 2011 much like hay and pine were in 2010.
For most of the rest of the Congress, the presentations did little to advance the concept of food as art rather than craft, although there was plenty of "artistic" food. There were two outstanding exceptions, however, and both happen to be known principally as pastry chefs - Jordan Kahn and Albert Adriá. Adriá presented a video based on his work and the book of the same name "Natura." The beauty and creativity behind his work is astounding. Even better is that his "art" happens to be delicious. Unfortunately, Adriá's visual presentation was in the form of a video. This was unfortunate only because, I do not have anything to show you from his presentation other than some pictures of Albert himself.
Adria's presentation closed the Congress. His video Natura showcased his incredible creative skills not only as a pastry chef, but also as a film-maker. He made the Natura film himself and was also the director on the incredible film A Day at elBulli. The latter film was shown only as a trailer, though I got to see the whole amazing thing a few weeks later during Ferran's visit to Bar Basque. It is absolutely worth the time viewing it, if the opportunity presents itself.
Jordan Kahn also showed a video of his making, demonstrating creative skills beyond his talents as a pastry chef as well as highlighting his pastry brilliance. His video played a soundtrack of music by Chopin interspersed with surrealist clips of Dali, Rothko and Kahn himself plating desserts. While this played on a large screen, Kahn plated the same desserts pictured in the video, live in front of the audience, all without uttering a word. The scene was absolutely mesmerizing and his on stage creations simply beautiful. After the fact, Kahn had to stop people from trying to taste his plates. Though based on real, delicious desserts (I had his desserts at Varietal in NYC), these were not made for actual eating. Given the need to transport some of his work from California, the elements of his on-stage creations were designed to mimic the look of his actual platings, but to also allow for stability and transportability. Regardless, the effect of his presentation certainly showed that food preparation can be art and no less an art than any other aesthetic discipline. As for any good artist, craftsmanship is a necessary ingredient. An artist must be able to convey a message,a statement or a feeling. Craft, whether it be drawing ability, the ability to handle an instrument, the knack of applying paint to canvas or a chisel to stone or creating a dish of food to achieve a specific effect, is something a good artist must have. Both Adriá and Kahn, as well as other presenters at the Starchefs ICC, have craft, which they are able to apply to create something on a plate that strikes a chord in the diner, both visually and through taste. Occasionally other sensory components come into play as well. The bottom line is that food as art must employ craft, but not all well-crafted food is art.
The main theme of the 5th Annual Starchefs International Chefs Congress this past September in NYC was Art vs. Craft. There is no question that cooking involves craft and good cooking involves plenty of it. The more controversial question is whether the craft of cooking can aspire to or ever be considered art. While my personal preconception is to say that some cooking is clearly "art," the question really isn't that simple a one to answer. The dilemma comes from trying to define what "art" actually is. The Free Dictionary offers at least one definition of the word that reads:
"the conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium."
However, a discussion in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests that it is actually quite difficult to come up with a universally acceptable definition of what constitutes "art" and that "Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy." It is not clear (to me at least) from this discussion that there really is any clear and universal definition of what art is, even among its more traditional considered areas. Still, thanks to the rise of creativity and new forms and styles of cooking, the question of whether or not cooking can be considered art is a legitimate one.
The organizers of the International Chefs Congress sought to address that controversial question with a discussion of Craft vs. Art involving three of the most prominent chefs in the United States today, Thomas Keller, Dan Barber and David Kinch along with moderator Michael Ruhlman. A detailed account of the proceedings follows. Though much of what is written below are actually direct quotes from the discussants, they are offered as paraphrase rather than in quotes. Once again, I am indebted to my son and assistant, L.J. Sconzo, for his yeoman work in transcribing the discussion. Let's see what they had to say:
Leslie Parke is an artist's artist with an eye for interesting art that she likes to share along with an educated assessment. Though I usually promote food and food blogs, Leslie's outstanding art blog, accessible through her website, leslieparke.com is a welcome and worthy exception. Her website features her own fabulous work, while her blog covers everything else that interests her (and yes, there is food, too!).
Of course, open farmland is necessary to grow the crops and raise the animals that become our food, but it nourishes more than just our bodies. Some of the most beautiful farmland in the country exists in eastern New York State, especially in Washington and Rensselaer counties. Still packed with small family farms, the quality of the produce is wonderful, as is the scenery. The open farmlands of this area also nourish our collective soul through the work of a number of extremely talented artists who have made this area their home and the inspiration for much of their work. This weekend, The Agricultural Stewardship Association is holding their ninth annual Landscapes for Landsake curated Art Show at Maple Ridge in Cambridge, N.Y. to benefit the organization's important work in preserving this valuable farmland as farmland for future generations.
Unfortunately, it is getting ever more difficult to keep this marvelous land doing what it does so well - working as farms. With suburbia or even industry ever approaching and the difficulties of surviving as a farm getting ever greater, the pressures on this land continue to grow, even as the actual amount of farmland continues to shrink. Contributing artist, Leslie Parke described the situation thusly:
The message and the work of ASA are important for anyone who enjoys a meal of good, clean and fair food or those who just enjoy a bucolic view. This event is always a great way to support those goals and have a good time in the process. Curated with works chosen by Evan Wilson, the show itself takes a broad look at what makes a landscape from traditional vistas to more narrowly focused views of animals, farm implements and more to exceptional pieces of furniture and sculpture made from found products of the landscape. To support the work of the ASA click here.