Chef Pierre Calmels didn't go to art school, but he's found a kindred spirit in artist and designer Gregg Moore, a professor of Ceramics at Arcadia University. Moore's exhibition "Heirloom" at the Philadelphia Art Alliance revolves around "Table d'Hôte" ("The Host's Table"), a unique family-style meal that the artist and the chef developed together.
The prix-fixe menu shifts week-to-week and month-to-month with the produce of the season. Diners gather in the Art Alliance's first floor galleries, which happen to be located just a few feet from Calmels' heavenly restaurant Le Chéri, and eat family-style with friends old and new. Moore spent hours with Calmels absorbing the lore of local forms like the cassoulet dish, the large earthenware vessels that are used to slow-cook the classic meat and bean dishes that are a staple food in Southern France. In fact, each dish, culinary and ceramic, was developed just for "Table d'Hôte," with Moore and Calmels combining their loves of produce, food, and the ritual of dining. Some of Moore's francophone earthenware plates even feature meticulous renderings of tools and specimens from Diderot's 1751 Encyclopédie. The food is classic French fare, made with the best ingredients available, skill, knowledge, and time. It need not be anything more.
This is what curators like to call "social practice" art -- that is, people doing everyday things in collaboration with an art gallery or museum. The only difference is that in the case of "Table d'Hôte," the food is almost indescribably transcendent. Calmels trained for over 10 years in France among top Michelin Star rated restaurants, and in 1998 he began working for Chef Daniel Boulud, a fellow native of Lyon, in New York City. He arrived in Philadelphia in 2001 to work at Le Bec Fin as sous chef and then executive chef for the legendary Georges Perrier. Calmels and his effervescent wife Charlotte opened one of Philly's hottest BYOB restaurants, Bibou, in 2009, which was quickly named one of GQ Magazine's top 10 best new restaurants in the United States. In 2013, the Calmels opened Le Chéri (their pet name for one another) in the Art Alliance's elegant, turn of the 20th century dining room.
For Moore, whose love of ceramics is directly connected with his love of science and agriculture, the chance to collaborate so closely with a chef of Calmels' caliber is a dream come true. "Heirloom" grew out of his evolving thoughts about production and consumption. Trained (in part) as a studio potter, Moore has combined a small-scale studio practice with design work for retail giants like Williams Sonoma and Anthropologie. The shop he runs with his wife Jackie, Heirloom Home and Studio in Glenside, PA, is part home goods boutique, and part art project. Above all, he wants shoppers and diners to be aware of what they're consuming and to enjoy it on its own terms. "Heirloom" features an array of porcelain berry baskets that are cast from their disposable, paper analogs. Moore's permanent baskets are designed to ferry produce back and forth from farmstand to home to neighbor, with the hope that the cycle will not end and the basket will not be discarded. Near the stack of berry baskets are tiny seeds that are cast from porcelain, a reminder that everything on the "host's table" is rooted in a common source.
To book a reservation for Table D'Hôte:
These seven-course, prix-fixed menu dinners will be served Wednesdays through Sundays from May 23 to August 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm. To place a reservation, please contact Le Chéri restaurant at Reservations@lecheriphilly.com or by calling 215.546.7700. Be sure to mention that your reservation is for the Table D'Hôte dinner series in the gallery. The cost is $150 per person. Space is limited to 16 reservations for each evening. Guests are encouraged to place reservations as soon as possible.