A Difficult Rebirth for Culinary Art

culinary artAs Covid restrictions recede, restaurants are starting to fill up again. Hopefully the damage to our once-burgeoning food culture can be repaired.

My hope is that we haven’t lost our edge, that restaurants that serve innovative, original works of art rather than just a meal will again flourish. Great restaurants are no longer just a place for the well-dressed to eat fussy food at a premium price. They must provoke the imagination and stimulate the intellect or so it was before we retreated to our pandemic-induced home cooking projects.

But returning to that pre-pandemic state will not be easy.

Chefs and their staffs will have to relearn how to balance their food-as-art intentions with the food-as-meal expectations of some of their diners. A restaurant consciously striving to create art must nevertheless get the timing and execution right. There is an element of performance art in great cuisine, and practical considerations of delivering meals cannot be entirely pushed aside. That coordination takes know-how and experience and these may be in short supply for awhile.

The predicament of chefs creating culinary art is similar to the problems faced by an architect striving for aesthetic impact. Form cannot be entirely divorced from function. A lovely building that crumbles to the ground is not art; just a pile of rubble. A beautiful plate of food served after one’s attention has waned and the passage of time feels like eternity becomes just another course, having lost the aura of expectation on which it’s artistic credentials depend. A work of culinary art that cannot function as a meal cannot succeed as art.

Sometimes it takes longer than expected to produce a finished work, and sometimes it will fail—art is like that because it involves taking risks. As diners we will have to patient as the restaurant world gets up to speed again.

It will take time for the seamless integration of food-as-art and food-as-a-meal to be reborn.

But let the rebirth commence.

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