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The Art of Food (Feature)

The Art of Food demonstrates the multi-sensory experience of cooking and dining

By Kathy Schwartz · February 26th, 2014 · Diner
eats_artoffood_jfPaul Weckman of Otto's and his wife, Emily Wolff - Photo: Jesse Fox
Alfio Gulisano, executive chef of Alfio’s Buon Cibo in Hyde Park, wants to bring his “A game” to The Art of Food, The Carnegie’s annual exhibition of culinary and food-inspired visual art. Although the focus is on engaging the senses through food as art and art as food, he and other chefs say that every day is an opportunity to be artful when cooking and dining. 

“Food is daily, versus going to a concert or seeing art in a museum,” Gulisano says. 

Among the plethora of other chefs on board for this year’s event — which celebrates its eighth anniversary Feb. 28 — are Paul Weckman, owner of Otto’s in Covington, Ky., and Jackson Rouse, executive chef at The Rookwood in Mount Adams.

Weckman says his longtime participation in The Art of Food is about connecting with his community, not about standing out with sculptural garnish or dishes painted with sauce. He tells his chefs, “Let the beauty be in the ingredients, and stay out of the way.” To him, what’s on the plate is just one component of a larger artistic occurrence surrounding food; the true art is the coming together of people, whether it’s hundreds at The Carnegie or a small family in a kitchen. He calls his restaurant his biggest panel upon which to create. 

“We provide the background with candles, our service,” Weckman says. “The experience takes choreography.”

Rouse also embraces the whole sensory experience of dining. His table at The Art of Food will be covered with a drawing of a “cow-pig,” with nose-to-tail dishes ranging from headcheese and crispy pig ears to oxtail marmalade arranged within the drawn diagram.

Roasted bones will hold radishes in “edible dirt” made with seasonings and marrow butter. Count on a pig’s head on display, too. Rouse calls the setting a “gnarly visual” intended to educate, shock and awe.

In addition to providing for the eyes and taste buds, Rouse will supply music for the evening, poring over 45s to select Funk and Soul songs with references to food. 

Like creating art or music, cooking is a way to channel passion, Gulisano says. The veal ravioli he’s making is “three canvases” — pasta, meat and sauce — that he’ll assemble with love.  

Gulisano was raised in Buenos Aires, where his Italian great-grandparents settled. The ravioli recipe is his grandmother’s. He says that hand-folding the pasta is a peaceful step, during which he thinks about the connection to his past. According to Gulisano, dining should bring you back home the same way viewing art or even listening to music can. He uses the term “maestro” to describe his oversight in the kitchen, comparing ingredients to musical notes and food aromas to tones.  

In the kitchen at Otto’s, cooking is family fun time, and there’s a simple artistic quality to that, Weckman says. He’ll be taking his nearly 11-year-old twin boys along on Friday. They’ve read the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef and got involved in Otto’s prep work over the summer. 

“I never anticipated that they’d be so enthused to be making food,” Weckman says. “They have their own knives, coats, bandanas. It’s hilarious. I didn’t learn until I was 18 or 20.”

Weckman says his boys like piping pastries and selecting herbs, so he initially wanted to serve something savory with baby greens and fresh-picked herbs at The Art of Food.  But the sprouts he’s growing indoors are “ornery” and not ready, so Weckman will serve slices of a sheet cake decorated with an abstract by his wife, a painter, instead. 

“It will be a cool visual,” he says, “then it will be gone.”

Rouse grew up in rural Northern Kentucky with similar food and family values. “It was farm-to-table not because it was cool, but it was second-nature,” he says. His mother had a garden, and a farm across the road raised cattle. Starting at age 13, he worked in a grocery and learned to butcher meat. 

“The artistry of that has finally come full circle,” he says, referencing the fact that more home cooks are heading to shops like Avril-Bleh and Butcher Betties for fresh-cut meat that isn’t wrapped in plastic. As for those who will be more shocked than awed by his “cow-pig” art at the event, Rouse says feeling uncomfortable is not a bad thing. “Food is art, and art is food. Everyone is pushed to the artistic limit (at The Carnegie). I can’t wait.”

The Art of Food opens Friday with a ticketed reception featuring the edible culinary artwork of more than a dozen local chefs, plus food-inspired artworks in all six of The Carnegie’s galleries. After Friday, the artwork — not the food — will be on display for free through March 16.

THE ART OF FOOD’s opening reception, with chefs, is 6-9 p.m. Friday at The Carnegie (1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky.). For more information or to buy tickets, go to thecarnegie.com.  



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