Painting A Portrait

The dictionary defines an artist as a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria. Does this mean that chef’s are considered artists, since they produce meals that are pleasing to see and eat? Artists use mediums like paint and clay and metal to bring their creations to life. Musicians are considered artists because music is composed of notes through instruments that inspire emotion in listeners. If a chef’s medium is food, and since they use all five senses to please, are they considered artists as well?

Chef’s can use seasonality to define a menu, and cause memories in a patron just by certain foods. If a slice of pumpkin pie doesn’t inspire feelings of autumn, then cooks can showcase their own feelings through a simple type of cuisine. For example, Alice Waters brings organic California-influenced cuisine to mind, while Rick Bayless constantly redefines what can be considered Nuevo Latino cuisine. At an even more detailed spectrum, chef’s like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz use deconstruction and avant-garde cooking techniques to redesign how we perceive food, and manipulate the senses into thinking that one item may actually be something else. A perfect example is Achatz’s hot and cold potato soup. A hot potato is served on a needle made of sugar in a cold soup. It allows for multiple sensations at once. Not to mention these famous culinarians work the plate better than the rest, creating meals that are as amazing to look at as they are to eat.

Some chef’s don’t agree with the idea that cooking is an art form. Chef Jimmy Schmidt says, “I think it’s safer to call (cooking) a craft. To capture the impression… of a certain mood or feeling is a lot tougher in food than it is in other media.” and Joyce Goldstein states, “A craftsperson is one who masters technique… and that comes from practice, which is where school really helps a lot.” (Culinary Artistry, Dornenburg and Page, 1996). Culture plays a direct influence on the craft as well, with each chef becoming a master of cuisines in order to further develop their own. Each cuisine is broken up into distinct groups, where flavors, spices, faith, and geography all coincide. One cook may master French technique in France, but be influenced by growing up in Morocco in the selection of spices. Is this the true art? The blending of cuisines world’s apart in order to convey a message through food?

While the debate over cooking as an art form may never truly be answered, it does open up some great possibilities. Where will cooking go in the future, and how will that effect the choices of future culinary students and foodies? I feel that through time, and a clear understanding of what a diner really wants out the meal, a chef can bring the craft to the level of art. Although it takes immense talent, and I’ll be the first one to say that not all chefs have this, there are those of us who would push the envelope. Those who paint a portrait through food.

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