There are certain treasures of Chicago that in looking back at the end of the year, I realize I need to take more advantage of, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of them. Tourists come from every corner of the world to see it. If you live in the city, the Art Institute is only a walk, divvy, bus, or cab ride away. Every time that I visit it, I am really happy that I did and tell myself that I should stop in more often. Given that I write about local sourcing of food and sustainable food issues on the Local Beet blog, it was about time that I went and saw the current show, Art and Appetite: American Painting Culture and Cuisine, which runs through the end of January 27, 2014. During January, Illinois residents can enter the museum for free Monday through Friday.
The exhibit documents 250 years of food production in the U.S. and is jam-packed with paintings, menus, books and recipes. Creating and producing the show took over four years, so there is plenty to see and uncover in an afternoon. The website for the show is full of content as well, including an online cookbook. Cooking in the past is connected with the present day through the collaboration of many well-known Chicago chefs.
A video on the website shows Chef Carrie Nahabedian explaining her inspiration in pairing James Peale's Still Life With Vegetables with her recipe for a Winter Blancmange with Cauliflower, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Juniper and Pine Nuts. Chef Graham Elliot paired artist Wayne Thiebaud's Salad, Sandwiches and Dessert with his recipe for seafood chowder.
The paintings convey the history, issues, customs and political developments in food across 250 years of our history, which is a lot to chew on. In the nooks and crannies of the show there were 5 little gems I came across that are not to miss:
For any fan of current day's Baconfest 2014, this map is not to be missed and tee shirts are on sale with the map on it at the end of the show. It is interesting to note that people were obsessed with pork back then just like they are today.
William Emerson Baker's paean to the pig, a map of the United States, suggesting the outlines of a pig, is surrounded by pigs representing the states and territories and their respective pork-related culinary specialties.
2) Wine list from the Fifth Avenue Hotel 1861 - The exhibit has menus from the great hotels of the 1860s and this wine list is one of them. Found under clarets on the menu, is a 1851 Margaux for sale at $2 and there is an abundant list of sherries and madeira. To see the wines that were produced and sold back then and still are today was incredible. It gives context for the description of "old vines".
3) Among the menus in another room is the menu for an American Maize banquet given by the Hotel King of Denmark in 1893. Today corn is a symbol of American agriculture and it was back then as well. But I guess Iron Chef was not the first one to challenge chefs to a one-ingredient themed meal.
4) Towards the end of the show, closer to the present day, there are menus from Chez Panisse in the 1970's, including a tribute dinner to M.F.K. Fisher. It was an interesting perspective to see the start of Alice Water's roots in the restaurant world, knowing what an icon she is today.
5) The show store - The shop that accompanies the show is a culinary bookshop. There is a nicely chosen selection of culinary books and unique items including the Porcineograph tee shirts.
With all the good eating and drinking that the holidays bring, walking through this thoughtful show of food in America across 250 years is a nice respite. It definitely gives one food for thought during and after the holidays!