Dining from the garden of an artist


Can’t see the forest for the trees. Consonance and dissonance. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness….” (Khalil Gibran, The Prophet).

An expression. The mechanics of music. And recommendation by a poet.

These all signal the duality which forms the human experience. They speak to perspective.

Center panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Heironymus Bosch (painted 1490-1510)

Center panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Heironymus Bosch (painted 1490-1510)

From the ground, people of the sky lack context. From the heavens people of the earth lack context. Both are true.

Hieronymus Bosch painted with a symbolic hand. The Garden of Earthly Delights show fantastical vignettes stitched together in a single landscape. Our eyes dive deep into figures existing in a contorted reality. We drink up the irony. We we delight in the ambiguity.

Man with a plum head (detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights)

Man with a plum head (detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights)

At the same time, our vision takes in the whole. The birds-eye view. We see the pattern in the landscape. We make connections of the man with a plum head in the lower right corner and the blue sphere floating in the lake.

Le Gargouillou, by Michael Bras; image courtesy of A Life Worth Eating

Le Gargouillou, by Michael Bras; image courtesy of A Life Worth Eating

The reputation of Chef Michael Bras echos throughout the world. Gourmands make the pilgrimage some ten hours outside of Paris to dine in tranquility of his genius. A chef’s chef.

One of his signature dishes is salad. Not the typical brutish toss of tender greens drowning in dressing. Rather Chef Michael tweezers delicate ingredients onto the plate. Each element carefully considered for size, color, shape, texture. Bras builds flavor one molecule at a time.

Each ingredient more rare than the next. Fruits, vegetables, and flowers artfully layered in the way that Van Gogh layered brushstroke after brushstroke. We admire the both technique and the composition.

Ode to Michael Bras

Ode to Michael Bras

Austin favorite Paul Qui adds his own flattery through imitation. Capitalizing on locally sourced produce, Qui recants the attention to detail in “Ode to Michael Bras,” the first item on Qui’s menu.

Like the original, surgical instruments come into play.  A micro plane shaves root vegetables into translucency. Syringes of vegetable puree afford pea-sized dollops. Chef lays them out in plain sight like the Easter Bunny hiding brightly colored eggs among tall grass.

Detail - Ode to Michael Bras, by Paul Qui

Detail – Ode to Michael Bras, by Paul Qui

At first the eyes fill with a bouquet of colors. Crimson beets. Viridian broccoli. Lemon ochre puree. Cobalt violet cabbage. Cadmium orange carrots.

We make out the confetti shapes. The broccoli floret as a miniature tree from a Chagall picture. The cross section of the stalk, a Matisse cut out. The sickle shaped fennel slice stolen from the canvas of Kandinsky.

Our eyes see both the detail and the big picture.

Chef Chris Weber from the Herb Farm also paints with a masterly hand. Take for example the seafood bar (pictured below).

The base is worthy of a French patisserie. Buttery crust box-spring with a mattress made from pastry cream. It’s top surface tempered by the heat of the oven. Treasures from sea napping on top.

Sunshine caviar on one end. Raw oyster in center. Poached shrimp sausages cut into the lozenges on the other end. Herbs lay like newly fallen leaves. Still bright from photosynthesis.

Seafood bar from the Herb Farm

Seafood bar from the Herb Farm, creation by Chris Weber

While we delight in presentation and consumption of these dishes, it is also worth noting the plate after the garden has been harvested.

In the case of Paul Qui’s ode, what remains is a painting in and of itself.  However it has moved from a reflection of a 16th century Dutch master to a mirror of a 20th century Dutch master.

After the ode to Michael Bras

After the ode to Michael Bras

Energy of the fork spreads sauces around the plate. As diners delight in matching beet puree with broccoli, the pigment is scrapped across the ceramic canvas. The final rendition appears like an abstract expressionist work.

Reclining man (John F. Kennedy) by Willem DeKooning;

Reclining man (John F. Kennedy) by Willem DeKooning; photo courtesy of Biblioklept.

Perhaps a fleshy painting by Willem deKooning. A picture where muted ochre and scarlet are smothered by linen white.

We see both brush strokes and the figure in repose. We admire the painterly hand and deft portrayal of a man.

The gift of dichotomy is not reserved for the elite.  A Dutch passport is not required.

It is the simple consideration of both the big and the small. Begin with a clean plate. Create the galaxy one planet at a time.

Do this and share your experiences in the comments field.

Let us taste the individual notes and the harmony. Let us dine on some earthly delights.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

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