Dish of the Week
Filet Mignon & Ricotta- Egg Yolk Ravioli with "just a salad on the side"
Lazar “El” Lissitzky was one interesting dude, an architect, designer, photographer and typographer who lived between the Czar’s downfall and the rise of Communism in a little window of time when a humanist approach to the arts in Russia was allowed to flourish. Though he played a role in some of the most revolutionary art movements catching wind in Europe at the time ~ developing Suprematism with Chagall, teaching in Germany with the Bauhaus ~ his lasting contribution was a unique visual language which considered the power of geometric form when projected into the third dimension. Alive today he’d probably be rich and famous at Pixar or Apple.
He was not, to my knowledge, ever a chef, nor does anything you read about him (except perhaps the fact that he once walked across Italy) indicate any interest in food beyond eating it. Yet I think about El a lot these days as I watch our dishes leave Barndiva’s kitchen.
How important is the way food looks to our enjoyment of eating it? Ryan is fond of saying we eat with our eyes first, but do we actually taste things differently depending on the way we perceive them? If a great landscape painting has the power to wake us up to the beauty of nature, does a beautiful plate of food help connect us ~ even subliminally ~ to the place where it was grown, the people who raised or grew it?
Pretentious looking food isn’t what I’m on about; a plate of “beautiful food” that makes no connection to taste ~ and through taste to a field or meadow or body of water ~ is as lost an opportunity as a painting appreciated for its technical prowess that does not have the power to move us toward a love of nature and from there, a desire to protect it.
Over the past year shooting Ryan’s food for Dish of the Week, while I’ve enjoyed writing about all the tricks and clicks that separate the amateur from the professional cook, I find I keep coming back this question. Lazar's language for art had a social context which for him ~ given the times ~ made it relevant. His theory posed that if the right connections were made between the components of "volume, mass, color, space and rhythm," the eye would make an emotional connection to the work which supplied a meaningful narrative, even when the work was 'abstract.' That was art, this is food, but in a curious way the sensory connection we bring to cooking and eating is also the dominate force that defines our relationship to it. We eat to live, but we also live to eat. And the vibrant life of vegetables, the texture of proteins, the delicate colors of edible flowers, the filigreed edges of herbs have all the same compositional resonance we respond to in a work of art. What's more, we don't experience food in a fine dining setting from the prescribed museum distance; we are an essential part of the process, bringing to the experience a crucial interactive piece.
Fine dining is a hybrid art using the physical picture plane of a small 3D canvas with the repetitive timing of a theatrical production. It takes an enormously disciplined aesthetic. As a performance art it starts with sourcing, moves through the precision of cutting, prep and a range of cooking techniques (with and without heat) to the minutes before presentation. Only then are the final 'colors' added 'backstage' in a moment of intense choreography that can make or break ~ within seconds ~ everything that's come before.
Think I'm crazy? Perhaps, but check out the visual appeal and the production values of what Ryan calls "a simple side salad" which we serve with the Filet Mignon and Ricotta-Egg Yolk Ravioli on the lunch menu: slivered dark heart carrots, red and gold beets, tiny toy box radishes, spicy micro sprouts and pineapple sage petals follow a sinuous line that transitions from raw to cooked ~ garlic confit, steamed baby carrots, artichoke hearts and pearl onions ~ halfway across the plate. What's interesting beyond the visual delight of the plating is the narrative arc of the dish, which manages to give equal billing to the salad and vegetables (and for crunch, two house-made lattice potato chips which look like they drifted onto the plate on a breeze) without upstaging the star of the show: a perfectly cooked Filet Mignon.
There are few things in life as satisfying to a carnivore as a forkful of charred steak flooded with glorious golden egg yolk, but the umani seduction we get from eating animal proteins does not necessarily need to rely on the amount of it we consume. Ryan's plating, beyond its visual appeal, also reflects this evolving consideration, and choices that stretch from the plate all the way back to how and where we source our food.
As much as I respect (and try to adhere) to Michael Pollen’s #1 rule: “eat food, not too much, mostly plants", I don't believe any directive ~ no matter how sensible ~ can teach us as much as an actual experience we feel connected to. Dining is a journey, the more visual the better. Our appreciation and joy should be something we build upon, one which grows with every bite we take. Barndiva was created from a desire to feed people delicious food, sourced sustainably, leaving them wanting to eat with us again. Like Lazar Lissitzky, who believed in transformative art ~ the idea that beyond the experience of looking lay connections which could effect a society of change ~ I’d like to think we are also part of a transformative food movement.
Art first, food first, or for us, any thoughtful combination in between.
Tour de Cure
Studio Barndiva is thrilled to be working with our good friends David and Nicole at Brush Salon to help host their Couture for the Cure Fashion Show on Sunday, April 22 in support of the American Diabetes Association. Entertainment for the evening will be an exciting runway show courtesy of four of Healdsburg's most popular shops: Susan Graf Limited, M Clothing, Outlander Men's Gear and Clutch. Before the show Barndiva will provide cocktails and hors d'ouvres, Vin Couture will be pouring wine ~ so don't be late. A live and silent auction will augment the runway show which will star local and professionals models with hair and make-up by the talented folks at Brush. Space is limited for this very special evening. Great night, important charity. We hope to see you here.
To make reservations for dinner after the show, call us at 707 431 0100, and mention the show. For tickets to the event, see below.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted).