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Are Chefs Artists?

Loudoun County Restaurant Week meets Fine Art

Netflix has been adding more and more shows like Chef’s Table, The Mind of a Cook, The Great British Baking Show, Ugly Delicious, The Final Table, Zumbo's Just Desserts, and many more because of the peak interest viewers have in food and the way chefs bring creativity into their dishes. So, is it safe to say that these men and women of the food world are Artists? The simple answer: yes. Whether they’re a 3 Michelin Star chef in France or a street vendor in Hong Kong, they create art out of ingredients the same way a sculptor uses marble. I guess there’s one thing that separates the two - you can’t eat marble.

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Picture by Chef Matthew Fahey

Over the years, chefs from all backgrounds have been mastering the technique of plating the perfect meal, a chef-d'oeuvre that stimulates all senses - maybe most important of all, sight. Your first impression of a dish is the moment it’s walked out of the kitchen. The anticipation of seeing that plate is absolutely palpable. Of course, the presentation must be out of this world. Chefs have not only created plates to inspire the guests’ sight but a creative atmosphere that brings them into the artistic space of the restaurant which allows an even more dramatic experience. One such Chef is Grant Achatz, whose award winning restaurant, Alinea, is ever changing.

In an excerpt from his interview with Ann E. McBride, Chef Grant Achatz describes why he thinks a Chef is an artist. The full interview is available at https://www.ice.edu/blog/interview-with-grant-achatz


“You used the word “artist” before. Do you consider yourself an artist?

Yes. I don't think there's anything wrong with considering people who cook a certain way or for a certain reason artists. Art, to me, is anything that creates an emotional reaction or response. And I think that by crossing the line of just feeding people for satiation, what we have done here, all of the aspects that we've incorporated, add up to a sum of an artistic presentation. The collaboration with [designer] Martin [Kastner], making food almost an edible sculpture, having this industrial stainless steel sculpture come together with an organic-looking piece of food to form this one object that is homogenous and has function and purpose, and then being able to consume part of it, to me, it is art.I maybe use the term a little bit too loosely. I don't know. But, to me, certain things are very artistic. The way people move, there's a certain level of finesse. People think of art and they just think of photography and paints and drawings and that's simply not the case. There can be artistic qualities found in many, many things. It doesn't have to be just your common forms of artistic construction. Why can't an architect be an artist? If a particular building makes you take notice and feel a certain way because of the stylistic forms and the lines and the materials and the textures and the colors, certainly, that's art.
But some people might just say, oh, he's an architect. A fine craftsman, a fine carpenter who creates this beautiful table or beautiful cabinet with creative lines and beautiful textures, that's art too. So, to me, the whole debate of whether cooking is a craft or an art simply boils down to the focus of the person executing it. If it's my grandmother and she's making meatloaf to feed her 11 kids in 1965, I doubt very highly that there was too much artistic focus going to there. Conversely, I think if you look at what Ferran does on a nightly basis, I think you have no choice but to consider it art. It's not just about the high concept nature of it; it becomes very obvious which people are actually trying to express something with food as a medium versus just giving people something to eat. It becomes very obvious when they're trying to communicate through their food.”

Posted by Anne E. McBride Diced-March 29, 2018 https://www.ice.edu/blog/interview-with-grant-achatz

Chef Grant Achatz isn’t the only chef who feels this way. Local Chef Matthew Fahey gave his opinion on this debate in a brief interview with me.

(Q) I’m writing an article on Chefs and whether or not they should be considered artists. I was wondering if you could give me your perspective on that?

(A) Anyone can draw/paint in some ability, but it takes an artist who spent years perfecting their style to really bring a picture to life and there's that fine line that separates an amateur and an artist. It’s the same thing for a chef. Anyone can cook to some degree, but it takes a chef who spent years trying all kinds of foods to create the perfect combination of flavors that you can't find just anywhere. It’s this fact alone that I consider chefs to be artists. To be able to take food and turn it into something unbelievable.

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Picture by Chef Matthew Fahey  

A Brief Bio

Chef Matthew Fahey has been working in a kitchen long before his first job on the line. At a young age Matthew was more than happy to spend his time in his family kitchen learning from his mother up until he graduated High School.

 “After I graduated High School, I went right into working in kitchens. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, teaching myself and being taught by some really great chefs. I’m now the Sous Chef at a local farm to table restaurant, [The Butcher Station] where I really get to be an artist and create wonderful dishes using locally grown and raised food.” Matthew Fahey

The fascination between food and art doesn’t stop with Chefs. Many painters bring their love of food to their art. In our upcoming Asian Fine arts and Antiques Auction one such artist, Wang Jiyuan, does just that, declaring his love and respect for cabbage in a poem. Other scrolls and paintings can be found in our gallery depicting fruits and vegetables to represent the change of seasons, gifts, and like Wang Jiyuan simply their love of food.

There will never be a time in history that people stop loving art or food. I believe people will always find new and exciting ways to show their artistic skills. Using a spoon instead of a paint brush is just one of those ways.


Chinese ink painting on paper of cabbage by Wang Jiyuan.

43 inches tall X 15 1/2 inches wide. From Mr. Kam in Ottawa, Canada, imported by his family into Canada in the 1970s.

Pre-Sale Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500.

To explore this topic further, take advantage of Loudoun Restaurant Week. Talk to some local Chefs and see their inspiration for their favorite dishes. Discover the flavors and sights of the area, then stop by Oakridge to take a walk through our gallery. Or call us at 703-291-1010 to set up an appointment with our specialists.


About the Author 

Natia Lunghi joined the Oakridge team in early 2019 and made an immediate impact by steering the gallery toward a paperless workflow and optimizing many of the day to day processes. With her extensive experience as an office manager and her commitment to customer service, Ms. Lunghi helps to guide Oakridge as it continues to grow in size and scope and makes the gallery a welcoming place for both new and returning clients.

Natia Lunghi

Tags: art chef restaurant Loudoun food artist artists

Tue, Aug 27, 2019 12:41 PM

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