Can food be art? Are chefs artists? How can we distinguish a great dish from a culinary masterpiece?
There is much discussion about the artistic component in the work of a great master of the cuisine. In the era of avant-garde cuisine, we are all talking about the artistic element involved in the work of some chefs. The unique aesthetic and signature of these chefs make their work recognisable worldwide even by people who have never tried their dishes.
Some specialists believe that chefs are simply cooks, and their thoughts, artistic expressions and complex narratives, have no place on the plate. Others see this present time as a new historical moment in gastronomy, where ‘Food for Thought' is just as important as nourishment.
With these and other similar questions in mind, Sergio Coimbra, the Brazilian award winning photographer, started his personal quest to prove that some chefs could be considered artists the same as Pollock, Picasso and many others who had their work immortalised in Art Galleries around the world.
"Some chefs work as artists”, he says. “They make dishes that impress us not only with their flavours, but also with their visual construction. The combination of the colour, the shape and the texture of dishes always fascinated me.”
Coimbra never stops to explore and continues his search for culinary masterpieces after he won the 2012 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for photography with an unusual double book containing photographs of dishes and ingredients only.
In fact, he recently held the first Culinary Art exhibition at the Basque Culinary Center, the most advanced institute in the world for culinary arts and science, based in San Sebastian, Spain, where he presented the work of six well-known Basque, Catalan and Spanish chefs.
Of this experience Coimbra said: "To work together with the best Institute for Culinary Arts in the world, and six great professionals was a pleasure and inspiration. They are chefs and true artists, and their work is not only delicious but also aesthetically impressive. Some chefs are real artists, and I believe we proved that at the Basque Culinary Center with the exhibition Encounters."
Coimbra captured iconic dishes by Andoni Luis Aduriz, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, Pedro Subijana, Quique Dacosta, Joan Roca and the master patissier Paco Torreblanca with great photographic and emotional mastery.
Called “Encounter/Encuentro”, the exhibition uses the same naturalistic design as that of the stunning building created by Vaumm architects. The result, which you can see in FDL’s gallery, is really powerful and the prints were actually as big as canvases, thus magnifying the effect.
What do chefs, the protagonists, think of all this? The great Juan Mari Arzak seems to speak for all of them: “To see our work in a gallery is a very powerful experience. It gives a sense of continuity to a work that vanishes at the table in a few minutes.”