Yes, every chef is an artist. But these four talented toques practice more than just the culinary arts. Here’s a look at what these chef-artists create when they’re outside of the kitchen.
Tarver King of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Lovettsville, Virginia
When King is cooking, charcoal provides fuel and flavor. But it becomes his medium when he sits down to sketch. To achieve the best results on both fronts, he chooses woods with the utmost care.
“The softer the wood, the richer the smoke,” he explains. “And the blacker and more liquid the charcoal will be. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the harder and denser the wood – and the longer it burns – the sharper the flavor of the smoke. The charcoal it creates is really light, almost whitish gray. And the lines you make with it stay forever.”
King doesn’t constrain himself to just timbers. He has burned everything from grapevines and bread to make his charcoals, storing each of them in vintage cigar boxes until he needs that particular shade.
Many of his artworks focus on the women of myths and legends. His most epic undertaking, The Reveling of the Mórrígan, depicting the Irish goddess lounging on a throne bedecked with rams’ skulls, is over seven feet high, five feet wide, and took him more than 350 hours to finish.
Since becoming a father last fall, he has had less time to devote to his drawing. “But when I come home and my wife and daughter are asleep, I’m still all about whiskey and artwork,” he says.
Dennis Foy of d’floret, Lambertville, New Jersey
When he was a child, Foy would look at trees and spot faces in the bark and then try to draw what he saw. From sketching, he moved on to painting with watercolors “because they were cheap and easy,” before landing on acrylics and oil paints. He honed this passion for art even as he pursued a career as a chef.
Only needing to sleep four or five hours a night, he still has plenty of time to create. Inspiration comes in spurts. “Sometimes it’s a flood, sometimes you’re hard-pressed to find rain,” he says.
His works are mainly divided into two categories. The first is one-of-a-kind menu covers, which he describes as Joan Miró meets Jackson Pollock. “They’re filled with spontaneity,” he says “I try to construct covers that are abstract and full of energy.”
And then there are the landscapes, which he has been painting since the late 1970s. Many prominently feature the horizon line. “It’s the point between the ethereal and the mundane,” says Foy. “It causes people to stop and look because the horizon line has separated us from our spirituality and physicality.”
The chef hangs these works in his restaurants, where they are available for purchase and has exhibited them in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Michael LaScola of The Proprietors, Nantucket, Massachusetts
When Michael LaScola was coming up through the ranks in his twenties, he loved painting after a long shift. “It was my release,” he says, “rather than just going out to the bars and destroying myself every night.”
He had always been into art, creating abstract drawings, cartoons, and psychedelic pieces for his high school magazine. He considered going to art school, but he attended the C.I.A. instead. Nonetheless, he found time between cooking classes to pick up a paintbrush and start experimenting.
But at some point – somewhere between opening a restaurant with his wife and welcoming their first child – his painting petered out. For nearly two decades, he didn’t create anything artistic beyond what was happening on his plates. Then, this past November, an old friend encouraged LaScola to start again, sending him a set of supplies to help him reconnect with his muse. It was like he never stopped.
A shed in his backyard had been converted into an office; now it’s his studio. “I can go out at any time of night, put on some tunes, and just go to town until two or three in the morning without disturbing anyone in the house,” he says.
Paintings are pouring out of him, mostly crafted on pure feeling, though Russell Mills, best known for his Nine Inch Nails album covers, is a definite inspiration. LaScola hasn’t displayed any of them publically, instead, posting them to Instagram to get virtual feedback instead.
Benjamin Goldman of Planta, Miami Beach, Florida
It all began on a trip to Tulum, Mexico, where Goldman was researching vegetarian and vegan cuisine for his then-employer, Seaspice & Modern Garden. “Every one of my senses was inspired by my travels,” he says.
Upon his return to Miami, he began creating bonsai-like arrangements of succulents, the hearty micro-plants prevalent in the arid environments south of the border, in spare bowl and plate samples from his purveyors. “It was my therapy at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s how I clear my mind; my Zen meditation.”
Goldman sees a direct correlation between composing arrangements and creating plates. “I put the main component in the middle or off to the side where the focus is,” he says. “The little plants are the garnishes. And the sand and gravel that finish the planting are my sauces.”
His hobby became a side hustle a few months ago when he began selling his creations under the name Wasted Earth. Now his arrangements are housed in bespoke pots crafted by his father, who is a potter. Each miniature landscape arrives with a stick of palo santo, an aromatic indigenous wood burned throughout the Yucatán Peninsula.
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Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.