Posted by Porcshe N. Moran
Lately, I've been able to fully indulge in my love of food and art. In March, my fiancé and I had a blast at The Art of Food progressive party, and this past Thursday, a friend and I had a girls' night out at the Columbia Art League's (CAL) "Let Them Eat Art" fundraiser. Ten of Columbia's best chefs were invited to create a dish inspired by a piece in the "Edible" exhibition which explores food-related subject matters. When we arrived at CAL's gallery in downtown Columbia, Mo., we were greeted outside by a doorman behind a velvet rope. He took our tickets, marked us off the guest list, and handed us ballots that were to be used to vote for our favorite food of the night. I like how the event planners paid attention to detail to make it a special evening before we even got inside. I overheard one of the other attendees say they felt as if they were at an art salon in New York City.
Our first artsy morsel was the BLTT sushi roll from chef Jina Yoo, owner of Jina Yoo's Asian Bistro. The roll consisted of bacon that she brined and smoked, lettuce, tomato, spicy tuna, honey crisp apple and Brie and Gorgonzola cheeses. Yoo also made a vodka-infused tomato marmalade and a roasted garlic aioli for dipping sauces. She was inspired by "Smell the Bacon," a wood sculpture by Richard Hoeppner. The sweetness and crunchy texture of the apple really stood out to me in the roll. I enjoyed the unexpected combination of flavors.
Our next bite was the apple-smoked venison and pork hot dogs in fresh baked pretzel buns by chef Mark Sulltrop of 44 Stone Public House. His idea came from the photograph of a hunting dog with a deer carcass by Ken Logsdon titled "Finders Keepers". Despite the small portions, these delicious dogs were hearty and filling. They were topped with a sweet and savory blend of whole grain mustard with Strongbow hard cider, fresh sage and brown sugar, and caramelized onions. I think this rustic variation on the classic hot dog would be a great addition to any backyard barbecue.
Room 38 co-owner and executive chef Jeremy Bowles said he wanted to elevate the traditional meal of steak and mash potatoes with his bite-sized feast that was born from Ken Logsdon's photograph of an auction steer titled "Number One". He achieved this goal with mini hash brown patties topped with filet mignon, Gorgonzola cheese and a drizzle of red wine sauce. Several people came back for seconds on this one, and Bowles said he might consider putting it on the menu at Room 38.
Chef Brandon Quade of Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar presented attendees with a two-part appetizer inspired by an oil painting called "Introduction to the Cheese" by Jeanne Pascale. The first step was to eat the soft cheese ball that was rolled in crushed figs. Next, we were instructed to cleanse our palettes with the melon shooter. The figs added texture and sweetness to the cheese, while the fruity, bright green drink was refreshing. I loved the fun, yet cosmopolitan look of Quade's creation.
Chef Tyana Washington, owner of vegan catering company Sweet Ethics, paired social commentary with her entry into the competition. Her artwork of choice was Sawyer Wade's painting, "The McDonna", a jarring take on the perils of fast food. Washington's healthy vegan pâté was in sharp contrast to the painting's images. This was my first time trying vegan food, and I liked it. Sadly, her orange-pecan vegan cupcakes were gone by the time we got to her table.
In my opinion, chef Joshua Smith of Les Bourgeois Vineyards had the most interesting cuisine of the night. In honor of "Smells Like The Feet of Angels", a photograph by Mike Seat of a deli counter in Italy, Smith made terrine from U.S. Department of Agriculture approved wild boar, and pistachio cotto salami. He paired the exotic meats with Goatsbeard Farm cheese. This was my first time trying wild boar, and it was a real treat. My favorite part about this food station, besides how delicious everything tasted, was getting the chance to talk to Smith about his process in preparing the meats. He is very passionate about his work, and was more than willing to share details about what he does. Our chat got me interested in learning more about the art of charcuterie. If Smith is able to sell his gourmet meats for retail at Les Bourgeois in the future, I will be a customer.
Chef Mike Odette, owner and executive chef at Sycamore Restaurant, said he was thinking of spring when he created his appetizer based on the photograph "MMM, Morels" by Dan Hemmelgarn. Odette paid hommage to the specialty mushrooms with a puff pastry tart filled with shiitake mushrooms, white asparagus, dried morels, sugar snap peas, baby carrots and sunflower shoots. The tarts were light and fresh. Visually, they looked like little vegetable gardens ready for harvest.
The third place prize for best food went to Trey Bistro owner and executive chef Trey Quinlan. His dish was a deviled egg salad, the idea for which came from the photograph "All In One Basket" by Jennifer Market. The presentation of the salad inside of the dyed Easter egg shells was creative, and probably the most literal representation of any of the art.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to taste or even get a photo the second place winner, because they were all gone far before the end of the evening. The quickly disappearing canapé was a pear verrine from pastry and banquet chef Michelle Carlin of the University Club. Her layered concoction consisted of Champagne gelee, raspberry créme and a pear mousse. Carlin was inspired by "The Pear", a painting by Audrey McFadden.
The first place winner of "Let Them Eat Art" was the walnut bread crostini with goat cheese, pickled peach chutney and red wine mousse by Dahnya Rogers, a high school senior who is a student in the Columbia Area Career Center's culinary arts program. She chose the piece "Still Life with Peaches and Grapes" by Ed Collings. I voted for this dessert because of the incredible amount of flavor that Rogers was able to pack into such a tiny hors d'oeuvre. It was the perfect balance of sweet, tangy and creamy. I thought it tasted a bit like a twist on French toast, which probably came from the walnut. I also loved the colorful presentation. It was definitely impressive for a high school senior to stand out as the best among a group of highly talented, professional chefs. Rogers will start at Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. this fall. I look forward to hearing about her continued success as a chef.
"Let Them Eat Art" was a friendly competition that explored the relationship between the visual and culinary arts. I enjoyed seeing the "Edible" exhibit, trying the variety of foods and getting one-on-one access to a group of amazing chefs. The event was sold out for the second year in a row, so hopefully, CAL will do it again next year. I'll be there!
Hello! I am Porcshe N. Moran. My nearly two decades of professional experience covers print and digital journalism as well as strategic communications, content marketing and copywriting.