Issue 30

Food & Art

Food & Art

It is argued that a perfectly executed dinner rush in a restaurant is art. It’s the culmination of several talents, emotions, backgrounds and ethnicities put together in one large studio to produce something beautiful for the viewer, or guest in our case. So here is the long-standing debate: “Is food art?”

It is a vague question in all actuality. The kitchen can be viewed similar to that of the art process of a Picasso masterpiece. The staff is merely an extension of the restaurant, the artist.

The chefs are the paintbrushes, they are the stencils, the watercolors and the charcoal on which their canvas changes nightly. And nightly the canvas is placed in front of hundreds of viewers and guests, being critiqued with every stroke of the brush. Much like an artist’s canvas, one wrong move can end the process of completing the goal.

Food is delicate, it must be respected, and only when it is completely understood can it be perfected. There is something artful in the act of cooking. Cooking is so common that most people have some understanding of it, but few can truly appreciate it.

Every perfect knife cut, every sizzle in the pan, or beautiful braise, evokes something in the soul of a chef that can not be put into words. At the same time, the smell of burning oil, or food scorched to the pans bottom can be crushing.

Food can help define a culture. Food and the art of cooking is a strong part of history; and cooking, like art, is one of the few acts that are without limits. You can do virtually anything with food. It is an endless process. Much like an artist, every completed plate that walks through your kitchen door, is you.

As a professional cook you put everything on the line, you are critiqued with every bite. Pouring your heart and soul into your entire menu only to find out that a guest has left unhappy, unsatisfied. That sense of failure, much like an unsold masterpiece, can not be avoided.

Artists may spend their entire lives on a single masterpiece. Several murals go unfinished because their creator passed before the final stroke could be made. Chefs spend the majority of their lives perfecting their craft. Chefs spend more time concentrating on their menus than they often do with their family and friends. It can get lonely at times.

A chef’s menu is a representation of who they are, and what feelings they want to evoke in their guests. A chef will create a hearty dish to warm people when they are cold. Similarly, they will create fresh, light dishes that bring to mind summer walks with their parents. Fond memories of family vacations are poured into certain items, evoking a smile throughout the preparation. Their menu is their soul. At times, it defines them as people.

Can a chef express themselves through a single plate involving steak and potatoes as much as a great painter can express themselves on canvas? Perhaps not. It is the unseen process that is art. It is the devotion, the act of creating, and the act of sacrificing so much to achieve a dream that is art.

Respecting classic techniques, respecting the food, and respecting the craft in general is crucial. Professional cooks are some of the most passionate people on earth and at times passion can define beauty, and the act of creating art is beautiful.

Paul Urban

Paul Urban

At 27, Paul has been in the restaurant industry for 13 years, working at approximately 25 restaurants, both locally and abroad. In 2006 Paul graduated from The Institute of the Culinary Arts, Omaha NE, with a degree in Culinary Arts and Management. Paul received the 2007 State of Nebraska ProStart mentor of the year award. As a member of the slowfood movement, Urban and the staff work with local farms in an attempt to stay local, fresh and sustainable. On September 25, 2007 Paul became the executive chef at Darwin Bistro, a concept and goal he had been working towards for five years.

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