Folks who have ever gazed down at food and thought "This is too pretty to eat," know how to appreciate the preparation of a dish that's as visually stimulating as it is satisfying to the stomach. Whatever the plate contains can become palate-pleasing based on carefully arranged colors, cuts and combinations. Sauces, sprouts and other garnishes — often framing the focal point in creative and compelling ways — are usually placed with a purpose. But spontaneity also drives the placements and pairings, just as it does sporadic brush strokes across a canvas.
Three upcoming culinary and art fusion events (listed with details below) highlight the inter-connectedness of the crafts. Creative Loafing spoke with some of the chefs and artists for their spiel on the creative process.
Art You Can Eat
What: McColl Center for Art + Innovation and The Asbury are collaborating for this culinary and visual arts event. Over the past 18 months, works by former McColl artists-in-resident's Isaac Payne, Ben Premeaux and Jason Watson have dominated the walls of The Asbury. Inspired by the pieces and the artists, Chef Coleman and Chef de Cuisine Matthew Krenz are preparing a special three-course menu with passed appetizers for the event.
Why: Both McColl and Asbury stress the concept of thinking creatively and locally. For insight into the artists' minds, chefs reached out to them to talk about food memories and where they draw inspiration. The courses they'll be serving will recount their findings through the artists' musings and through particular pieces filled with shapes, colors and textures from their canvases and/or other mediums.
How: Krenz credits his past job as a graphic designer as helping to fuel his creative work in the kitchen. "I feel like I've been lucky because it has enhanced how I see things on the plate. What I try to describe to my cooks to emulate is to make it feel like it fell from the sky and landed perfectly in this very organic fashion," Krenz says.
Krenz uses negative space to make colors pop in a stimulating manner, but he stresses the importance of tying all the flavors together. "Everything on the plate has to make sense. I don't put things on the plate that aren't edible. I just don't believe in that. I also refuse to put a garnish on a dish, just to put a garnish on a dish. If it doesn't add anything texturally or for flavor purposes, then why is it really there?," Krenz says. "When I am putting things together I create flavor profiles and once I figure out the direction that I want to go, that's when I start thinking 'Ok, if this plate is going to get a garnish, then what makes the most sense?' That's when you start looking at colors and textures and figure out how it's going to create a memory, because that's what we hope we do — bring back an old memory or create a new one."
For the upcoming Art You Can Eat, the chefs will draw from a food memory shared by Jason Watson. "One of his fondest memories about ordering food in Germany was not having a clue what he was going to end up with because he was ordering in German and he didn't necessarily understand, so his dish is menued in German," Krenz says. The chefs will also draw from his notion to take completely non-related things and use them in a blank, stage-like space. There, they lie scattered together with seemingly no reason but through progression, the relationships are sensibly exposed.
When: Sept. 28, 6:30-9 p.m.
Where: The Asbury, 235 N. Tryon St.
Culinary Canvas Series Dinner Event
What: The event, presented by CLTure, Friendship Gardens and C3 Lab, combines the creativity of culinary and arts platforms and aims to give guests a unique visual and edible experience. The theme of the event is "Into the Wild," and it features music, a five-course meal created by Chef Luca Annunziata of Passion8 and six or more oil paintings by local artist Alexandra Loesser. TOPO Organic Spirits will be mixing up cocktails and Triple C Brewing is providing craft beer. It's all for a good cause, as proceeds go to Friendship Gardens — a network of garden partnerships that share their harvests with Friendship Trays, which provides nutritious meals to folks in the community who need them.
Why: "Food and art are two scenes that are rapidly growing in Charlotte," Loesser says. "There's a lot of artistry in cooking and I love the thought of finding connections between the two. One way we are doing that is through color and it will be great to see that expressed in two completely different ways. I know that Chef Luca Annunziata of Passion8 has taken some of the themes of the work to some really exciting places, so I think it will be a great night for the senses."
Annunziata is excited to showcase his culinary and arts skills. "Most people don't think of culinary as an art, but for me it is the way that I showcase my creativity," he says.
How: To create a tantalizing dish, Annunziata makes one item as his focal point. "This item is the heart of my dish from there I incorporate other ingredients that complement the main component. I would say a palate-pleasing plate would include presentation, flavor and the unique combination of ingredients. These are important things to make a dish complete."
When: Sept. 30, 7:30-10 p.m.
Where: C3 Lab, 2525 Distribution St.
More: $75. www.eventbrite.com.
An Exhibition of Food Arts
What: Cece Stronach, the founder of #RuminateCLT (a culinary and visual art collaboration with a goal to expose the interconnectedness between food, art, culture and community in Charlotte) will showcase her seven acrylic paintings of meals mostly prepared by restaurants and chefs from The Asbury, Block & Grinder, Customshop, 300 East, Heritage, Heirloom and Kindred. The showcase will also feature around 20 colored-pencil drawings by Craig Morrow of dishes from other local spots like Futobuta, Bleu Barn Bistro, Daily Press and Yummi Bahn Mi.
Why: Stronach began painting dishes after being inspired by Instagram pictures posted by chefs and restaurants in the Q.C. Her first was a painting of chicken liver pate created by Matthew Krenz at The Asbury.
"I realized there's so much more that goes into the planning and preparation in the kind of culture and community that the chef's are building – kind of behind the scenes. I wanted to bring that passion and beauty to the canvas," Stronach says.
How: Color is one of the things Stronach looks for when choosing what dish she's going to paint. She also seeks out meals that have height and depth, in order to give her works a 3D effect with shadows.
When: Oct. 9, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Free Range Brewing, 2320 N. Davidson St.
More: Free admission. cecestronach.com.