[Inspiration; noun (inspəˈrāSHən): the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially, to do something creative]
The concept of inspiration is crucial to every artist—finding that thing that forces one to create or to be creative. A chef is an artisan, an artist who creates for money, so of course finding inspiration for crafting a dish or foodstuff is the spark that lights the creative process. One of the greatest surprises of my tenure with Crystal Bridges is the abundance of inspiration that abounds every day from the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, architecture, and even the trails and grounds that frame our museum. Whether it be literal inspiration from the artworks, or simply history and storytelling, it’s hard not to trip over beautiful connections linking art to food.
One of the first, more literal examples came by way of one Eleven’s most popular dinner menu items, The Way of Color Eggs, inspired clearly from James Turrell’s Skyspace. We fashioned color and shape through pickling a hard-boiled egg in dark red beet juice and then maneuvering a traditional devilled egg to give it a presentation not at all unlike the view through the oculus in The Way of Color Skyspace. In Eleven, we hope to inspire our guests to experience the Museum through the sensibilities of our eyes and palates.
Indeed, Wednesday Over Water—or WOW—is a monthly venue for the culinary team to exercise its creative chops by drawing connections from the monthly themes of the event. Food and drink offered at this event has reflected the architecture of Moshe Safdie, the sweet and salty characteristics of the recent Angels & Tomboys exhibition, the cool, refreshing story of Crystal Springs as a cocktail, and most recently through a mason jar filled with cream and sugar that WOW guests shook at their tables to make their very own Chantilly or whipped cream to accompany Farmers’ Market peaches— inspired by the This Land exhibition.
Perhaps the most enigmatic and important vessel of inspiration for me has come from an evening of food and storytelling that was spent with Ruby Bridges, the African American woman who, as a young girl, inspired Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, as we discussed our shared ritual of hulling peas and snapping green beans at a table with our families as young children. Something as pedestrian as hulling peas never meant so much, and that connection suddenly gave way to inspiration. This poignant moment had a profound effect on me, and I found myself painstakingly crafting a field-pea soup with Swiss chard and avocados that ultimately became a dish that will travel to NYC to be a part of the upcoming Beard House dinner.
I love walking through the galleries of Crystal Bridges, silently waiting for inspiration to well up from within. It doesn’t always happen quickly or easily, and in fact, it often happens at times when I least expect it…perhaps when wrangling my daughters along the trails, or when escorting guests past a painting I’ve seen a thousand times before, but for some inexplicable reason it ignites a spark that will almost certainly lead to something delicious…!
Live, Love, and Eat with Art!