As food connoisseurs, we’re no strangers to the culinary art of plating a dish to its most appealing aesthetic. From crispy halibut skin architected atop an airy mousse to morel foam resembling fluffy clouds, artistic presentation can significantly enhance a dish’s desirability. “People eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouths,” explains chef Serge Krikorian of Arkansas’ Vibrant Occasions. “That is why it is vital that food be presented beautifully.”
But the connection between food and art goes deeper than just the visual appeal of a dish. Many chefs today use their culinary creations to explore themes and ideas traditionally associated with art as a way of storytelling the journey of food. By incorporating unusual ingredients, experimental techniques, and unexpected flavors, these chefs are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the food world and inspiring new generations of foodies and chefs alike. From Ferran Adrià’s avant-garde approach to cooking to Dominique Crenn's poetic, art-inspired cuisine, these culinary artists are challenging our perceptions of what food can be and demonstrating the power of creativity and innovation in the kitchen.
Like artists, chefs often draw on their personal experiences, memories, and cultural backgrounds to create dishes rich in symbolism and meaning. “Food is not just for fuel anymore,” shares Krikorian. “Food is art – the creativity chefs exhibit comes from the same place that music comes from musicians or fashion from designers. To chefs, food equals love, and every time they put themselves out there by presenting their dishes, they put a part of their heart on the plate and risk its acceptance or rejection, just like any other artist.”
Art of all kinds relies on the principles of balance, proportion, and harmony to stir the senses. In the culinary world, these elements work cohesively to curate what Kirkorian calls couture cuisine. “A dusting of powdered sugar across a plate or a carefully-placed flower bud can be compared to details of a garment such as hand-beading or custom embroidery design. At the end of the day, the amount of thought put into the details of anything creative produces an interesting final product.”
One such culinary artist who puts a lot of thought into her compositions is Laila Gohar. The Egyptian-born, New York-based visual artist works with food as her creative medium to elevate often humble ingredients. Her culinary canvases are often large-scale installations and sculptures made entirely from food, such as a towering pile of fresh lemons or a wheat field made from spaghetti strands. She also creates intricate, multi-course meals designed to be experienced as a sensory journey, with each dish building on the flavors and textures of the one before it.
Gohar’s work could be viewed as continuing the conversations of the Dadaists and Surrealists of the early 20th century. Much like the European avant-garde, her work seeks to disrupt conventional ways of thinking about food, its presentation and how it’s experienced, using surprising combinations of ingredients, texture and colors. In a recent commission for Prada, she organized patterns of radishes that resembled precious stones, while for Simone Rocha, she created cakes made of candle wax and oyster shells bursting with glistening pearl earrings. She’s also known for her signature koi-shaped Champagne jelly centerpiece with a single rose nestled inside, which adorns many of her creations.