1 March 2017
Woven through Intersections, was a conscious effort to give E.A.T.’s guests the practical tools to approach their home dining experiences in a way that makes those experiences more memorable, beautiful, and of course, delicious. From plating arrangements, to spooning techniques, to the underlying philosophy behind setting a menu, guests left with the concepts and skills allowing them to look at food from a new, more consciously artistic perspective.
The beautiful Crossroads Art Center was the backdrop to our evening of creative collaboration. Setting out to untangle the Venn diagram of the artistic vs. culinary worlds, E.A.T.’s chef and guests alike explored the connections between culinary and artistic raw materials, what it means to be a “creator” in the kitchen or on the canvas, and how art and cooking might be seen as part of a decidedly collaborative process.
Kicking off the evening in an artistic vein, as E.A.T.’s guests trickled in, local artist, Chuck Larivey was in the midst of painting a canvas that would be auctioned off later in the evening as a charitable donation for E.A.T. Foundation’s Community Projects. Between Chuck’s painting and the beautiful works lining the walls of the gallery, guests had plenty to look at as they mingled with one another and perused with a whiskey sour in hand, whetting their appetites and getting their creative juices flowing for what lay ahead.
Creative collaboration was the concept at the center of Intersections. Executive Chef Will Lacey (Savvy-Foods/Yellow Dog Barbecue) pulled together a menu that gave our guests a chance to “create” alongside the chef, and also “edibly ponder” the artistic elements of food and dining. Chef Lacey’s menu was extremely playful, encouraging guests to rearrange, pull together, take apart, and at one point, even “paint” on the canvas of their plates and palates.
Each course of the menu was essentially built around a different artistic concept. Below you can find those concepts laid out course by course, and some tips and tricks for how to bring these culinary/artistic ideas into your own cooking, to make your shared dining experiences that much more unique, exciting, and memorable.
I. Contrast and the Unexpected
The first course of the evening focused on a key artistic concept: contrast. Instead of contrasting light and dark, however, the course emphasized the delicious tension and coupling that exists between sweet and salty flavors.
Our start to the meal was “Chocolate Salami,” which consisted of thinly sliced chocolate salami (alternated with traditional salami) served on fried wonton sheets with a bacon jam base, topped with a mint gremolata, and garnished with shaved Manchego.
This dish utilized multiple layers to contrast different textures and flavors. With each morsel, the flavors blended together, and the textures bounced off of one another like light in a prism. The dish served as a reminder that even elements you wouldn’t intuitively put together (i.e. chocolate, and cured meat) can be integrated in such a way that the best qualities in each comes to the fore.
The unexpected harmony that existed between the chocolate, cured meat, bacon jam, and fresh herbs is a lesson in and of itself to keep an open mind when it comes to food. The best creative expressions require a bit of faith and experimentation, and if you are willing to take chances in the kitchen, you might stumble upon an eye-opening, delicious discovery.
II. Process and Timing
For our second course, Chef Lacey wanted to bring some of the actual “cooking” to the table. He prepared a Cup of Pho with Vegetable broth, thinly sliced beef short rib steak, fresh veggies, and a slice of jalapeño for kick.
Steaming hot broth was poured over the noodles, short rib, and vegetables, completing the cooking process as the bowls were brought to the guests. Conceptually, this emphasized the transitory nature of art.
As time goes on, interpretations, relevance, and even the lacquer or intensity of paint undergo change. Likewise, timing the cooking process precisely results in food that is appropriately cooked, served hot, and can be enjoyed as a dynamic piece of edible art.
Using a broth to cook ingredients, as was done for the pho; the ingredients steep in the hot liquid, and the flavors continue to develop throughout one’s enjoyment of the dish. This is especially true for spicy flavors, like those released from the jalapeño, although the subtleties and nuance of gentle broths and fresh vegetables continue to unfold and blend fluidly as well.
When you use hot liquids in this way, you get food that changes as it is consumed, similar to a fine wine that “opens up” the longer it decants. Not only does this result in a dining experience that enlivens a sense of rediscovery with every bite, but it also sets the stage for more in depth interaction around the table. As you and your guests return to each bite to find a slightly different flavor profile, you embody the essence of dining as a group: taking time to enjoy the present moment as we change and develop together.
III. Keep a Surprise Ready and Share Who You Are
Course number three was built around the element of surprise. Choosing to bring a bit of his childhood into the meal, Chef Lacey prepared a cozy dish that reminded him of meals he had growing up at home (if not improving upon them).
Course Three, which was not included on the printed menus that each guest had set at their place, was Roasted Bone Marrow with mini buttermilk biscuits, served over arugula salad (lemon-zested dressing), honey-garlic chili sauce, caramelized onion marmalade, and heirloom carrot puree.
There are few more effective ways to share yourself with someone, than by cooking them the food that dapples your memories of home. Likewise, the art that most often connects with people is that art that feels honest, self-aware, and true. Using bone marrow as a base, and adding elements to the dish to balance and play off of that marrow-y richness, Chef Lacey brought a bit of himself to the table, and demonstrated for everyone that even as we develop and change, it is important to remember from whence we came.
In this way, the bone marrow acted as a symbol for knowing who we are: it is at our literal core. And the offering that Chef Lacey produced using this inspiration was surprising, hearty, inventive, warm, and honest. Truly the mark of a talented artist or chef.
IV. Use Blank Space to Your Advantage
The fourth course was perhaps the most interactive of the evening. For this course, each guest was provided with a fresh spoon, a clean white plate, and two small prep cups containing Savvy Foods Tomato Dijon and Mole Sauces.
Before coming around to the guests with butter-seared scallops with a tarragon-chive salsa verde (the recipe for which can be found here), we did a plating demonstration to show how one might best use blank space on the plate/canvas.
Spooning sauces onto your plate in different patterns, using different swooping motions, whether or not you plate symmetrically or asymmetrically, all of these things drastically alter the way the dish will be received by your guests. Taking the time to consciously plan out your plating can take a dish that is already delicious, and make it visually appealing as well. This can only work to enhance the overall dining experience.
(For a fantastic overview of some of the ways our foods’ visual qualities affects our dining experience, check out Great British Chefs’ article on the science of food plating.)
V. Keep a Consistent Vision (Taste the Whole Menu)
The last dish we shared around the table was a culmination of the flavors and ingredients we had enjoyed p to this point. In this light, the dish might be seen as the pinnacle of Chef Lacey’s artistic vision for the event, an almost unattainable goal for most artists. But hey, E.A.T. is lucky enough to work with some outstandingly talented individuals. (That said, there’s no doubt that Chef Lacey will continue to grow and develop, shifting the pinnacle of that artistic vision once more…)
The final entrée course was Peach Smoked Duck Breast served with lemon-zested asparagus, a roasted sweet potato purée and topped with a grilled peach salad. This particular combination of flavors carried with it the delicious tension of sweet and salty flavors, the continual development of taste as the purée absorbed the juices of surrounding ingredients, a tart surprise in the lemon-dressed asparagus, and was plated beautifully.
Building your dinner around a holistic vision, similar to using a broth to cook ingredients, the flavors you employ will develop throughout the entire affair. Doing this leads to a sense of cohesion and completion when the table is cleared. It’s like resolving a dissonant chord in music: you mark the end clearly, and fulfill a sense that the time you’ve just shared was meant to happen, a deeply satisfying experience for everyone involved.
VI. Keep it Fun
Finally, for dessert Chef Lacey thought it would be fun to bring a casual exploration to the dinner that went beyond the table. Before leaving our night of culinary explication of artistic ideals, guests were invited up to an ice cream dessert bar, at which they found Bourbon-Vanilla Ice Cream and a selection of toppings including a raspberry reduction, ladyfingers, fresh chocolate sauce, fresh strawberries, and bacon peanut brittle.
Ending the dinner in this informal manner was a perfect way to allow the guests to ease out of the evening, while also getting an additional chance to explore the gallery and see some more of the beautiful art on the walls at Crossroads Art Center. All in all, it was the perfect end to a fantastic evening. Guests left with new friends, connections, and perspectives, which really is the ultimate test of a successful dinner: do you know more, feel more inspired, and see the world differently than when you arrived?
Remember to keep up with E.A.T. and our continued culinary explorations! Our Upcoming Events page is a great place to look for a chance to join us on one of our dining adventures — Come be a part of our shared narrative!