Celeb Chef Geoffrey Zakarian Hosts Art of Food
A celebration of the Upper East Side’s fine art and fine cuisine.
Mini-cupcake meringue swirls from Magnolia.
Photo by Amy Sowder
Geoffrey and Margaret Zakarian.
You might've heard of The National, his restaurant in Greenwich, or recognize his face from Food Network's Chopped, The Kitchen, or Cooks vs. Cons.
Either way, celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian and his wife, Margaret Zakarian, hosted the second annual Our Town's Art of Food event presented by New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Feb 4. The shindig celebrates the likely pairing of the Upper East Side's culinary art with the visual art of internationally recognized masters.
But he wasn't necessarily the star that night. Squeezing through the crowd of well-heeled food lovers and art aficionados was a worthwhile feat if it meant nabbing the beautiful bites created by the participating chefs from more than 20 top eateries.
Each chef cooked and plated his or her featured dish near the corresponding work of art while a live band performed onstage and the wines flowed. People clamored for the oysters with green apple, whole-grain mustard miso, and salmon roe by Atlantic Grill, the buttery risotto with beet purée and squid ink by Sant Ambroeus, and spicy squash soup and mini toasts by Sahib.
Chef-owner Jason Hicks of Larchmont represented his local British pub, Jones Wood Foundry, with a creamy, meaty upside-down cottage pie, a tribute to his British roots, like his second, larger restaurant with additional elegant dining, The Shakespeare, near Grand Central Station. His dish was filled with mashed grits, aged goat cheese, savory, saucy ground beef, micro-greens, and some horseradish and wasabi for spice. While his dish was so satisfying it begged to be an encore, the untitled artwork by Sigmar Polke remained a mystery until Hicks explained his process.
“They sent us what our art was to be, and you try to get inspired," Hicks said. "First, I thought the art was really textural, so instead of mashed potatoes, I substituted mashed grits.” He pointed to one portion of Polke's piece that vaguely resembles a cow skull when you turn your head sideways. So using beef made sense to him. When you look at the artwork upside down, it looks like rain, so Hicks inverted the typical cottage pie layers for a similar upside-down feel.
Upside-down cottage pie.
Like Hicks, the other chefs created dishes inspired by artworks curated by Sotheby's, including Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Yayoi Kusama, Christo, Jonas Wood, Gerhard Richter, Wayne Thiebaud, Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Rauschenberg. Paired with Rauschenberg's vivid, abstract untitled artwork, Magnolia Bakery created bright, rainbow-colored trippy mini-cupcake meringue swirls and banana pudding.
"[Art] is a part of our culture that has been around long before any of us," said the event's founder, Jeanne Straus, president of Straus News, which publishes 17 neighborhood newspapers including Our Town in Manhattan and nine in the Hudson Valley. “It transcends languages and borders, and truly unites the world. Food does the same thing.”
A portion of the evening's proceeds will go to City Harvest, a charity that collects food from restaurants, farms, grocers, and manufacturers that would otherwise go to waste, and donates it to hundreds of thousands of hungry New Yorkers.
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