There is a well-known saying among chefs when it comes to the presentation of food: “You eat with your eyes first.” That saying is even more prevalent in today’s social media-influenced world where patrons of a restaurant will probably see the menu offerings on Instagram and TikTok well before they taste the first morsel at a new restaurant.
However in Houston, the synergy between the culinary and art world is on full display with the Culinary Canvas series, a spotlighting of art and food presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Bastion Collection.
Le Jardinier and Café Leonelli, two restaurants from the Bastion Collection at the MFAH, combine forces in the ongoing series, which kicked off March 13 and will take place throughout the year, to display the literal tasteful artwork. The first part of the series has Chef Alain Verzeroli and his staff creating dishes paired with libations meant to go with the more than 400 prints, drawings, watercolors, sketchbooks and more inspired by the Virtual Realities: The Art of M.C. Escher from the Michael S. Sach Collection exhibition. This means that museum visitors can gaze upon Escher’s Bond of Union lithograph, the surrealist piece displaying an almost mirror image of two heads floating, intertwined as a ribbon in a void, and later drink Our Checkered Past, an absinthe, rum and pineapple cocktail meant to keep with the themes infinity and duality.
Verzeroli and Chef Felipe Botero also offer such savory dishes as pan-fried scallops, cauliflower fondant, black currant coulis and tuile noire, along with sweet offerings by pastry chefs Salvatore Martone and Tiffani Ann Gkaris. Their Black and White sesame seeds praline appears as a set of stacked gray cubes but boasts the colorful flavors of raspberry and Oreo sable. The dishes, described by Verzeroli, are not just an ode to the work of Escher but also to the budding culinary world of Houston.
“With Houston being one of the most culturally diverse cities, this concept will add another unique component to our offerings and heighten guests’ overall experience,” Verzeroli said.
All the speciality dishes and drinks are designed to be delicious as well as visually appealing like the art pieces they complement. Beverage director Juan Carlos Santana and head bartender Max Labesse’s cocktail, Our Checkered Past, features a patterned overlay of fish and fowl laying on top of the drink, paying homage to Escher’s monochromatic pieces.
The detail displayed in this first offering of the series gives Houstonians a preview of what is to come the rest of the year. The next offering, based on the Obama Portraits Tour, is set to run through May 30.
The entire series will run until Sept. 5, so if you have a taste for fine dining and an eye for fine art, don’t miss the Culinary Canvas.