The Wall Street Journal
Mon/Oct 14, 2013
The Plate as Canvas
Chefs Find Inspiration in Fine Art at James Beard Dinner
By Rebecca Bratburd

From 16th-century Italian painting to modern hyperrealism, the chefs at Friday's James Beard Foundation benefit dinner, aptly named the "Artful Chef," at Tom Colicchio's Riverpark let their inspirations shine through with dishes based on fine art.

Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli-who majored in art history during college-served beet-cured wild salmon Carpaccio on Thursday evening, an immediate visual tribute to artist Vittore Carpaccio.

"I'm more prone to taste than to visual aspects of foods," Ms. Guarnaschelli said. "It was cool, in all honesty, to depart from that, and to say, 'this is going to look like art.'"

Host chef Sisha Ortuzar handled the hors d'oeuvres, which included oyster tacos; duck liver with chocolate pate, crispy paella and white anchovy; and roasted black mission figs with goat cheese. He said the vivid colors and exciting subjects of artist and longtime friend Steve Ellis inspired him.

"He's an artist of our time," Mr. Ortuzar said.

Chef Daniel Patterson picked a sunchoke soup that was served with chanterelles on the bottom and a simple base poured on top. Artist Catherine Wagner's work lines the walls of his San Francisco restaurant, Coi.

In addition to being one of Mr. Patterson's favorite artists, "she's my boy's godmother," he said.

Chef Andrew Carmellini chose a looser approach with his braised and roasted veal with heirloom polenta and broccoli raab. The artistic layer was secondary to the dish, he said.

"My relationship with food isn't so visual. It's more soulful and emotional. I take a more rustic approach to food than other people," Mr. Carmellini said. "I find tremendous pleasure in different elements of comfort, but great art isn't always comfortable."

Pastry chef Brooks Headley served butterscotch semmifreddo with sour melon and sbrisolona for dessert, a dish he made to match a foam sculpture by artist John Chamberlain.

Like food, Mr. Headley said, Mr. Chamberlain's work wasn't durable and instead was intended to be ephemeral. "Food only needs to be beautiful for 45 seconds," Mr. Headley said.

James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro said she's seen chefs talk to children in New York City public schools about nutrition and eating well.

About $20,000 was raised through a silent auction, of that a portion will be donated to Wellness in the Schools.