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Sales & Promotions : Flying Fish Restaurant : Food for Thought - Tim Tibbitts Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Is Food Art?
By Chef Tim Tibbitts
May 10, 2013 - 3:18:29 PM

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Every once in a while someone I talk to at the restaurant makes a comment about the food while we’re talking and likens it to art. Is it really art or is it simply craftsmanship? Most chefs would likely say the latter. I’m not quite sure where I stand. I was for a very long time a professional musician. That is someone most people would consider an artist. However, for me the transition to cooking high-end food was based almost entirely on my ability to continue being creative while doing something that I loved. My entire life has been the battle between musician and cook and even though the cook seems to have won, I don’t really believe I’m less of an artist.

Usually the single thing that defines art to most is the ability to see into the artist’s thoughts or passion by looking at the piece and making your observations. I would argue that I can do the same with food. When I’m in a good mood and feeling creative the food can be very playful and avant garde, but when I’m tired or stressed, I look to create comforting food that makes me feel better. The problem with being a chef is similar to being an artist; everyone has their own personal opinion based on style or content as to whether it was good or not. That being said, a chef is not the random rock guitar player who taught himself three chords and writes pop songs that kids crave. The chef works ridiculous hours over decades to be good at what he does. Almost all great chefs have a post secondary degree and then work alongside great chefs to perfect their craft. Great chefs know good food. They eat good food. They live good food. For most regular people, food is just dinner. Not for a chef. He’s a slave to the craft and simultaneously the artist he dreamed of being as a child playing air guitar on a tennis racquet.

New York Times writer William Deresiewicz wrote a piece about the “foodie” culture having the ability to make food replace art in high culture. He makes some interesting points and here are some of my favorites:
“Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known — in the days of the rising postwar middle class, when Mortimer Adler was peddling the Great Books and Leonard Bernstein was on television — as culture. It is costly. It requires knowledge and connoisseurship, which are themselves costly to develop. It is a badge of membership in the higher classes, an ideal example of what Thorstein Veblen, the great social critic of the Gilded Age, called conspicuous consumption. It is a vehicle of status aspiration and competition, an ever-present occasion for snobbery, one-upmanship and social aggression. (My farmers’ market has bigger, better, fresher tomatoes than yours.) Nobody cares if you know about Mozart or Leonardo anymore, but you had better be able to discuss the difference between ganache and couverture.”
I agree with this statement whole-heartedly as I cited above. Being in the elite group of the food business is very expensive and therefore perceived as elitist. The difference for me is that while fine art and opera may not be everyone’s cup of tea, everyone has to eat!
“Like art, food is also a genuine passion that people like to share with their friends. Many try their hands at it as amateurs — the weekend chef is what the Sunday painter used to be — while avowing their respect for the professionals and their veneration for the geniuses. It has developed, of late, an elaborate cultural apparatus that parallels the one that exists for art, a whole literature of criticism, journalism, appreciation, memoir and theoretical debate. It has its awards, its maestros, its televised performances. It has become a matter of local and national pride, while maintaining, as culture did in the old days, a sense of deference toward the European centers and traditions — enriched at a later stage, in both cases, by a globally minded eclecticism.”

Again, I agree with this completely. Our Sunday night education series and the Flying Fish Supper Club series proved this to me this winter season. There is such a core group of foodies even here in Grand Bahama, willing to take almost all their Sunday evenings to come and partake in our events. At least half of every group we had all winter came to at least 5 weeks of different events. That’s pretty impressive. It also shows us that food culture is here and it’s growing every day. The master artists of yesteryear are now the local organic farmer and the fisherman who specialize in catching the best fish.

Here is where myself and William will disagree:

“But food, for all that, is not art. Both begin by addressing the senses, but that is where food stops. It is not narrative or representational, does not organize and express emotion. An apple is not a story, even if we can tell a story about it. A curry is not an idea, even if its creation is the result of one. Meals can evoke emotions, but only very roughly and generally, and only within a very limited range — comfort, delight, perhaps nostalgia, but not anger, say, or sorrow, or a thousand other things. Food is highly developed as a system of sensations, extremely crude as a system of symbols. Proust on the madeleine is art; the madeleine itself is not art.”

I do believe that what the chef does to the apple tells us something about his emotional state and the journey into his mind about where the apple came from and where it ended up. Of course this is not in all food but there are some places, some restaurants and some experiences that are, without question, artistic. I have been moved to tears by food. I have been made to laugh by food. I have been amazed by food. So yes, food does evoke strong emotional responses. So let us say some food is art, and some food is just food. Good, yes. But still simply food, and that is also ok.

Thank you again for reading my articles. This one in particular was a great joy to write. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Throughout the summer, I will be travelling around our country learning about the Bahamas and its food culture and history, as well as some of its producers. It will give me lots of inspiration to pass on to you.

Don’t forget to give your Mom the best on Sunday. Brunch at Flying Fish is 11am -3pm and dinner from 5pm on. Make your reservations at 373-4363 or reservations@flyingfishbahamas.com and I hope to see you this weekend!

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Food for Thought - Tim Tibbitts
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