Chefs’ Love Affaire With Art

As a lover of all things artsy I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the best gourmet artists. From enjoying a Michelin star dinner to nosh creations of one of the best Pastry Chefs, it’s been a wonderful ride. I have seen chefs as a culinary species, romancing art whatever their specialty. To my eyes they always seem to be having a roaring affaire with the world of art, then again art is everywhere we look and it surrounds us. Recent years have seen a resurgence of chefs being popular household names thanks to television shows and most significantly to Instagram and Pinterest. These social channels have stirred our emotions every time we scroll through a waterfall of #FoodPorn and #ArtofPlating. I am always on these hashtags in an evocative state of #foodcoma by just double tapping the exquisite work of art. As I kept running into fabulous pieces on a plate, I wondered what do the chefs think of their affaire? How do they perceive their own work of art and do they take social media seriously? I interviewed few chefs I have had the pleasure of knowing and some whom I stumbled across on Instagram. This is what they have to say…

Atul Kochhar

Atul Kochhar
Atul Kochhar

He can be described as a foresighted artisan who is a maestro not just of the plating technique but the art of juggling as well. Based in London, Atul Kochhar rose to prominence in 2001 when he earned his first Michelin Star and then went on to retain it from 2007 till date for his first venture Benares as Berkeley Square in Mayfair. He is the first Indian Chef to receive a Michelin star and has had the honour to cook for the Prince of Wales at St James’ Palace. Now with quite a handful of contemporary Indian restaurants – Benares London and Madrid, Sindhu, India Essence Dubai and Mauritius as well as NRI and LIMA in Mumbai, Atul has scaled his brand quite phenomenally in the past decade. I have been fortunate to enjoy his art and craft be it in UK or India and frankly have been meaning to interview him for over a year now. So when I approached him to know his candid thoughts about his affaire with art, he was quite simple about it.

As an artist of the culinary art he hasn’t really looked towards mainstream art or an artist as an influence on his art of plating. ”The only artist that I take inspiration from is Mother Nature; it is the one thing all of us on this earth share. My team and I are the brushes, Mother Nature is the artist, the food is the paint and our senses are the canvas.”, shares Atul Kochhar.

Piri Piri Quail. Image Courtesy : Benares
Piri Piri Quail. Image Courtesy : Benares

When asked about his personal favourite or memorable dishes from a plating style perspective he shared, “Right now I am in love with the game dishes on the Benares menus. In particular the ‘Piri Piri Quail’ and also the ‘Achari Kabootar’ which is a Tandoori Pickling Spiced Squab Pigeon, served with Sweet and Sour Smoked Beetroot and a Herb Salad. The contrast of colours and smells on both dishes is a feast for all the senses. Generally speaking, our plating is kept quite simple as I am a firm believer that the quality of ingredients do all the talking.

Achari Kabootar
Achari Kabootar

Chef Atul Kochhar is quite savvy about instagram and other social media platforms and shares his thoughts on the surgence of culinary artists as an outcome of their popularity on these channels. “Social media has proven to be a powerful weapon for chefs to advertise their dishes. I do think this has had an impact on the way that chefs plate as more and more customers are snapping their food and sharing with their friends before they tuck in. You want to look your best in photos don’t you?”.  “Restaurants need a strong digital presence, it offers a valuable international advertising space and it’s free. It also allows us to connect to our guests one-to-one. I believe it has worked wonders for restaurants and in particular getting generation Y back into restaurants.” Refusing to eat is an obvious reaction that some patrons may have after being served a beautifully dressed plate with delicacies by a Michelin Chef. But as the maestro confirms that it doesn’t last for too long as they finally give into temptation and have to eat it.
For more details please visit Benares.

Marco Calenzo

Marco Calenzo
Marco Calenzo

Born in the cradle of renaissance – Florence, Marco Calenzo grew up with art, culture and the richness of a good harvest running through his blood. Son of a farmer’s daughter and a sailor, he was taught well from a tender age about nature’s bounty both land and sea. He started off on a high note working for Michelin-starred restaurants and later went on to become Chef de Cuisine at one of my personal favourite and award winning Italian restaurant – Mio, Four Seasons Hotel Beijing. From the far east imperial city of Beijing, his art of plating and habitual excellence sailed him across the Pacific to Four Seasons Resort Maui, Hawaii as an Executive Sous Chef. Last year I stumbled upon his work of art called Masako and was spellbound by the sheer simplicity and finesse of his plating technique. I have been meaning to write about his craft and this article seemed like a good opportunity to interview him about his thoughts on art.

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Image Courtesy: Chef Marco Calenzo. Alba white truffle bolognese cappellacci

Reflecting on my question about art being an influence on his plating style and technique, he shares, “ I personally think that cooking by itself is an expression of art. I believe that everything that surrounds us has an important role in our plating and style.” While he does give the produce and meat a sizeable importance to his excellence, he believes that it is the culture of the land that becomes a significant part of the dishes and good food is about creating long lasting memories in the minds of people.

Art seemingly has seeped through every nerve ending of his body, he is a Florentine after all. When asked to name an artist or a piece of art that inspired his craft, he says, “I would say Andy Warhol for his original visual art movement known as pop art (still very modern after so many years), or Bernardo Buontalenti, he was a Florentine stage designer, architect, theatrical designer, military engineer and artist… at the same time he was the first inventor of gelato (ice cream). He was from Florence like me and coincidentally the culinary school I graduated from was named after him “IPSAR Bernardo Buontalenti. While Buontalenti was working under the Medici Family, the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici wanted him to organize an opulent banquet to celebrate the Spanish deputation. Buontalenti invented a new dessert for the occasion – a sorbet made  with ice, salt, lemon, sugar, eggs, honey, milk and a drop of wine. His cold cream was flavored with bergamot and orange and was a forerunner of the modern florentine cream”. I loved the insight he shares about Florence with such nonchalance.  

Masako
Masako

Talking about his favourite and memorable dish from an art perspective has an emotional touch to it. “I think Masako dessert is still my favourite plating dish, for many reasons, Masako is my first daughter, and the dessert was invented following her taste. It’s a yogurt air parfait, green tea ice cream, crumble and powder, fresh raspberries and raspberries snow (made with liquid nitrogen). I love it because it is beautiful, really tasty but at the same time is fresh and light. It is the perfect end to a meal.”

What does he think about Instagram and Pinterest throwing the spotlight on the art of plating and instant fame for his craft? “As some people say – if you don’t post it, people won’t know about you. True, social media helps to spread the word, to break the barriers and expand the boundaries. People today use social media on a regular base and I think if used in the correct way it really helps to expand your knowledge and keep you sync with the times.

Image Courtesy: Chef Marco Calenzo
Image Courtesy: Chef Marco Calenzo

Have the guests refused to touch the dish because of its exquisite plating and in fear of destroying his art? He laughs and shares “No, but they mention it sometimes that they don’t want to eat as is so beautiful, but then they eat away as they can not resist the temptation. A perfect dish is the one that you can enjoy with all your senses. Of course, the first sense is sight, this means that you first eat the food with your eyes, but never forget that the most important for me is the taste followed by the olfactory sense.”

When asked to narrate a funny incident about his love affaire with the art of plating, he says,”Sometimes I really find it funny to see the art of plating junk food at a high-end cuisine. I find it awesome, and sometimes I play with it on my Instagram page. Many people look at Instagram or Pinterest for an idea on what to cook for dinner or with friends, and I believe that majority of the people do not cook with wagyu meat, caviar, lobster or oysters but with more comfortable and cheaper food. The goal is to make a corn dog, or a salmon bagel or a salad to beautiful. It’s crucial to be open to all market, and cater your idea to as many people you can!

For more details on how you could enjoy Chef Marco’s art please visit Four Seasons Resort Maui.

Joel Bickford

Joel Bickford
Joel Bickford

With 24 years in the culinary business, Joel Bickford’s first memory of cooking goes back to his childhood when he would accompany his mother in baking. This was where he found his passion for cooking. The career path he took, seemed like a natural progression, having worked after school in kitchens since the age of 14. From a series of fine dining stand-alone restaurants to luxury hotels, Joel has now arrived at Pier One Sydney Harbour’s The Gantry Restaurant & Bar as the Executive Chef. His aim is to bring effortless excellence to fine dining. He has set out to bring a new Autumn/Winter menu a The Gantry in Sydney with fresh produce, authenticity in terms of flavours. I came across his plating technique on Instagram and immediately sought an interview to know his opinion on the phenomenal popularity of art of plating videos and pictures doing rounds in the culinary world.
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How has art influenced his plating style or does it even have an influence? Joel shares, “I use my plates as a canvas for my own artistic expression food for me is a really expressive medium not just in flavour but in appearance.” He considers mother nature as the best artist of all and draws his inspirations from the immediate surroundings trying to present these ideas in their natural form.
posh-the-gantry-restaurant-dish-1.-image-by-jarrad-seng-high-res.jpg.jpegAsk about his memorable dish from an art perspective and he explains,”The comte dish is my favourite plate due to its simplicity of appearance which strongly contrasts the complexity of the flavours and the dish itself it has a very delicate appearance but the flavours behind the dish are  bold and distinguished.” What are his thoughts on social media since he is quite active with his plating display on Instagram? “Social media plays a huge role in not just the popularity of dishes but also the restaurant helping to lift the profile and gives the chef a platform to really showcase what they do.” He adds,”My top priority is to make delicious food and certainly the appearance of the dish can make a huge impression of the perceived flavour but most guests are satisfied with a quick photo before enjoying their meal.” On his memories with the art of plating, he says, “Plating is such a big part of the service and although funny situations will occasionally arise I feel it’s more of a love affair for the guests.”

For more details on his new menu and table reservations please visit The Gantry.

Stephan Hartmann

Stephan Hartmann
Stephan Hartmann. All images are courtesy: Bauhaus Restaurant Vancouver

Executive Chef at Bauhaus, Stephan Hartmann has offered the culinary world a “new German Cuisine” and has earned an international recognition for transforming classics into chic contemporary creations. He does have a flair for art and converts a simple plate into his painting or art installation of sorts. He has earned the Master Chef Award and the Newcomer of the Year award which garnered him a Michelin star. What does it take for an artist par excellence to create such disruptive work worthy of international fame? I put forth some questions and he shared his honest opinions. Talking about art as an influence on his craft, he tells as it is, “To be honest, I don’t think too much about it. I do what I do with what feels natural to me.  In my mind, a plate has to make sense from its aesthetics to the way you eat it and how it tastes. I am lucky enough to have worked closely with many artists- whether it be a hobby for them or their means of making a living.  My personal inspiration comes from nature though to me, nature is the greatest artist.”

bauhaus-vancouver-german-restaurant-chef-stefan-hartmann-instanomss-nomss-food-photography-healthy-travel-lifestyle-canada20150515_00006.jpgPurely from an art of plating perspective, there could be many of his creations that would catch the eye but is there a personal favourite to which he responds, “Each menu brings a new ‘favourite’ for me as I continually try to grow and in turn, so do my plates. Currently, it is our Arctic Char off my tasting menu with ham hock, rutabaga and paprika.”

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His take on social media especially Instagram being an influence to drive the audience up to the restaurant sees some limits. He sees it as a marketing tool to be used for the sharing. In his words, “I am a chef so I cook to appease the guest and give them an enjoyable experience.  Some chefs may cook to post great pictures on social media but cannot deliver that food to the guest in the end.  It’s good marketing, but that’s about it.”
bauhaus-hartmaan-4

Has his dish looked so exquisite that the guest refused to touch it in fear of destroying your art? More so as a bit of joke, but after staring at it for a while, they eat it because, at the end of the day, it’s just food.As he narrates a funny incident about his art of plating, he shares,” I will never forget the first sous-chef I worked for in a Michelin Star restaurant, Oliver.  He was amazing at plating but extremely strict.  When he would stand over and watch me plate, I started shaking.  However, I loved the pressure and it helped shape my standards for where I am now.

For more details on the new German Cuisine by Stephan Hartmann please visit Bauhaus Restaurant.

Domenico Di Clemente

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Having seen him work his magic first hand and then relish the delicate art with much gusto, I am happy that I finally have the opportunity to ask Domenico about his love for art. Executive Pastry Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Domenico Di Clemente discovered his passion for pastry when he was very young, whilst training at one of his own town pastry shops in Bisceglie (south of Italy). There was no looking back from there as he hopped from one luxury hotel to another among Four Seasons Hotels. Before returning home to Italy he had a three-year stint in Vancouver, working with one of the most famous chocolaterie of the Northern Equipped. In Florence he joined the Michelin star Chef Vito Mollica at Four Seasons. Domenico enjoy the art by adding a twist to every classic in the world of patisserie. Among his signature creations is “Crunchy Caramel Bar with Hazelnut Ice Cream” served à la carte at the Hotel’s Michelin Restaurant Il Palagio. This year Domenico has been awarded with the PRIX AU CHEF PÂTISSIER 2016 assigned by the Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie in Paris.

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Image Courtesy: Four Seasons Hotel Florence

Since he works and lives in the city that nurtured great artists and their work I wondered how does art influence his plating style. ”Art is a form of personal expression, which everybody has inside.
We can learn how to shape it with different materials and tastes, so as to recreate a small emotion in a dish that everyone will bring inside over time”, shares Domenico. And does a particular artist inspire him? To which he adds, “I was fortunate enough to know Ugo Riva, a contemporary figurative sculptor. I am not an art critic but I love his works because he can make the figure appear light and harmonious, although he utilizes bronze as material.

pencil-dessert-domenico
Image Courtesy: Four Seasons Hotel Florence

He strives to make every dish a memorable one and is currently fond of his latest creation on the menu of Il Palagio. “ It is a set of colored pencils, which to me is like going back to childhood, including colors, art and taste”.

 

What are his thoughts on a surge in the art of plating since Instagram made it popular? “I think that Instagram and Pinterest are new windows in which both lovers of cooking and pastry, also curious overlooks to know what new and interesting going on at the time. I would add also that other social media, starting from Facebook, they manage to create a connectivity with global users that would not be possible otherwise, and would not have been possible before their advent.”

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Image Courtesy: Four Seasons Hotel Florence

He hopes none of his guests would feel guilty of destroying his art on a plate by relishing it. “For me a dish has to involve three senses: The view because the dish must present himself and invite to tasting; the sense of smell, for the delicacy of its aromas and flavors; the taste, with various textures that complement the tasting experience.” Sharing a story about his plating style he adds,   ”My son has inspired the creation of the dessert that I mentioned above. Seeing him draw with simple colored pencils, while I was thinking about the new dessert that I would have realized, I had an inspiration that was then materialized, realizing my ‘Art Attack: Back to s’Q’uola’: colored pencils in caramel and chocolate, mousse of mascarpone and vanilla, which represent their pack, with white coffee parfait as gum to be deleted.”

For more details on Chef Domenico’s delicate art please visit Four Seasons Hotel Florence.

Andre Steyn

Andre Steyn
Andre Steyn

The talented Head Pastry Chef at Delaire Graff Restaurant in the heart of the Stellenbosch winelands – André Steyn is a waft of freshness on the culinary scene in South Africa. His experience includes South Africa’s number one establishment, Africa’s most highly ranked restaurant – The Test Kitchen. Delaire Graff Restaurant was named the global winner in the restaurant category for their 2016 Best of Wine Tourism Awards. His philosophy is to create indulgent, delicious dishes that are beneficial to the body and wellness, rather than
Deteriorating. I discovered him on Instagram and fell in love with his work of exquisite and some times intricate art instantly. Eager as I was to know his thoughts on his love affaire with art so was he to share his side of the tale.

Image Courtesy : Graf Restaurant
Image Courtesy : Chef Andre Steyn

“I believe that creating dishes and plating is truly an art form in itself. Being encompassed by the
natural beauty of Cape and working where I do surrounded by a prestigious art collection is
inspirational. For me, seeing how beautiful and interesting ingredients interact with one another
on a plate through a variety of styles and techniques allows a chef to create a dish as an art form
in itself. At Delaire Graff Estate, the gardens have been designed by Keith Kirsten, an artist in horticulture and landscaping. The gardens are in bloom throughout the year and are a constant source of  colour palette and ingredient inspiration. Another artist I enjoy is Lionel Smit with his bold use of colour and abstract approach to traditional subject matter. While my creations may
incorporate traditional ingredients such as strawberries or meringue, it is the technique used to
recreate it as something exciting, bursting in colour and flavour with an unexpected twist that I
strive for, much like the artists I admire.”

mushroom-terrarium-andre-steyn1
Image Courtesy: Chef Andre Steyn

I asked about his memorable dish from an art perspective to which he responds, “My ‘Mushroom Terrarium’ Pre-Dessert is inspired by my evening walks through the nature reserve near my home where mushrooms peak out from beneath the twigs. It is the perfect example of where I was inspired by nature. The plating is intricate, the ingredients unexpected and I enjoy creating the edible forest floor.” I agree with him. Solely looking at the image, you know it has been a laborious and detailed work of art cutting all boundaries of excellence.

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Image Courtsey: Chef Andre Steyn

Since we connected on instagram has the social media been a great spotlight on his art? “ The craft has always been there and has always been important because first and foremost, we
eat with our eyes. However social media has increased the fandom of the art and helped give it
the recognition and admiration I feel it deserves.” So for the fun part of the plating art and how do his guests react after seeing such exquisite work. Do they fear they will destroy such a labour of love? He quite enjoys the reaction and candidly shares, “It’s lovely to watch a guest receive their dish, pick up the fork and hesitate. In that moment, a chef such as myself who puts a great emphasis on plating is rewarded and you can’t help but smile to yourself.” Sometimes fear of destruction can be such a flattery! Andre seems to be all about in the moment of the craft when things may go awry or not as predicted. “ Errors happen in the kitchen and sometimes a dish doesn’t turn out how you envisioned. However, that’s where the artist comes into play as you recreate, experiment and explore the medium. A funny story is often where the best dishes begin.”

To learn more about his work of art or enjoy it first hand please visit Delaire Graff Restaurant

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