Wednesday, December 30, 2009

COOKING AND ART – Cooking: An Art

Grandchildren deserve equal time, and grandson Joel, 6, had his “little hour” yesterday, so it's time for the one and only granddaughter Kimberly to be onstage. Kimberly will be 18 in three months, and she’s one of those artists who characterize a parallel relationship between visual art and culinary art. For Kimberly, cooking is as much an art form as her painting, and she’s hypersensitive to the details and flavors that create quality cuisine.

Kimberly began painting one summer while I was visiting in California. We had begun experimenting with drawing and painting a small mural within a large, unsightly crack on the concrete wall enclosing one end of the backyard pool. Despite the jeers of her big brother Troye and her cousin Martin, whom I chased away, we created a desert landscape in the small space, and Kimberly became hooked on art. She has taken private art lessons for years and has won numerous Grand Prizes at the Antelope Valley Fair in California. Several of her paintings, including a portrait of me and my sister Sidney Sue that she painted from an old childhood photograph, hang on my walls here in New Iberia, Louisiana and at Sewanee, Tennessee.

Kimberly began cooking seven years ago, and when I went out to Palmdale one Thanksgiving, I made her my sous-chef, a position that required her to clear away and wash pots as we progressed with meal preparation. Too much dishwashing inspired her to advance to chef, and her mother Elizabeth has become sous-chef. Kimberly and Elizabeth have collected a library of cookbooks to equal that of my Godmother Dora Peacock who collected recipes, rather than cooked gourmet dishes. My godfather Markham Peacock donated the collection to Virginia Polytechnic Institute after she died (you can Google the name "Dora Greenlaw Peacock" to find out more about the collection). Two years ago, when Kimberly visited New Iberia at Christmas, she prepared a Cajun chicken and sausage gumbo that could have won ribbons at the New Iberia Gumbo Cook-off, and we have since begun giving her Cajun cookbooks.

The artist/chef connection fascinates me, and Kimberly is in good company. The impressionist painter Monet kept voluminous cooking journals and provided recipes for his table at Giverny, France. He loved food that was fresh and in season, and with his wife Alice, served beautifully-prepared dishes for notables like the painters Renoir and Pissaro, sometimes presenting pike from his own pond and vegetables and herbs from his kitchen garden. If he served mushrooms, they were picked before daylight before they could be presented at his table. Several of Monet’s favorite paintings, such as “The Breakfast Table,” “Luncheon," and “Luncheon on the Grass” reflect his love of food and its artistic presentation. Some of Monet’s artist contemporaries, Cezanne and Millet, were also food lovers and served artistic dishes such as bouillabaisse (Cezanne) and petits pains (Millet).

Kimberly’s art career is in its infancy, but she garnered a Grand Prize for a painting of food -- her still life of fruit arranged in an ornate bowl. She always cooks with fresh ingredients, disdains packaged food, and is very fussy about her meals. When she visits Louisiana, she discards her diet regime – one that focuses on nutrition and a slim body – and indulges in shrimp and crawfish dishes.

When Kimberly is asked to cook, she says simply, “Select a recipe and I’ll make it – anything.” However, we know better than to select one that contains packaged ingredients. She makes a family favorite, Baked Spaghetti, which she’s preparing for seven of us tonight. It’s a common-sense recipe that Elizabeth enjoys on her birthdays each year. Kim also bakes and has a certain predilection for chocolate.

We have an apron ready and have scoured the kitchen, anticipating this chef’s arrival. Vive le food art! Note: The paintings in this blog are Kimberly's work.
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