Creating an edible Louisiana landscape
By Lucie Monk Carter via countryroadsmagazine.com
[Tickets are on sale now for “The Art of Food,” presented by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and Country Roads magazine on October 22.]
A couple of years ago, following a paired wine dinner, the chef confessed to me—holding his third glass of champagne—that he was headed home to scarf down a tray of Ore-Ida tater tots. I won’t give his name here, but he’s not the first to make such an admission. Comfort food is comfort food, even if you’re capable of culinary alchemy.
And when that comfort is taken away? Chef Phillip Lopez, of Root and Square Root in New Orleans, made a recent visit to artist Jacqueline Bishop’s studio in New Orleans. The next day while watching a movie with his wife, he accidentally burned a batch of popcorn, and the smell reminded him of one of Bishop’s paintings, named “Dark Heart.” “That name—it’s what happens when you smell popcorn burning,” said Lopez. “The olfactory system kicks in because we are bred to believe that smell is wrong. So with just a quick sniff your heart turns dark; then that sorrow overcomes us, as we realize all the popcorn is a waste.”
For the upcoming “Art of Food” dinner, presented by Country Roads and Louisiana Public Broadcasting, we tasked the wildly creative Lopez with interpreting the works of Bishop to create dishes for a four-course menu, to be served on October 22 at the LPB studios. It’s not an unusual practice for the chef. “We create dishes driven by stories,” he said, of his restaurants, where recent menus have included experimental dishes called “Southern Picnic” (cotton candy, okra, mustard) and “Honey Mustard” (beeswax, pollen, and a spicy Japanese condiment called yuzu kosho). “When we cook, we have to cook from something. When we taste, we have to understand the story.”
“Dark Heart” and its evocative name, then, have become “Louisiana Shrimp and Grits” on Lopez’ “Art of Food” menu—with burnt popcorn grits, shrimp, picquillo peppers, andouille, creole tomato, and a charred mushroom cracker standing in for “an edible Louisiana landscape.” Lopez’s goal:—destroy these ingredients then bring them back. Nothing is wasted.
Bishop’s oeuvre is an exploration of the consequences of human cohabitation with nature (see her “Apple Tree” on the cover of this issue). “Dark Heart” comes from an installation entitled “Orchis,” that the artist created in 2006. It is “one of thirty orchids created to represent the long, brown edge of the river lined with unexpected color inspired by my canoe trips in the tropics,” she said. “The orchid symbolizes human characteristics and the connections between human and non-human.”
Each Phillip Lopez dish is inspired by a story—“someone I meet, a conversation…” Here, he sat with an artist and talked about Louisiana’s ecology. Then he went home and inadvertently burned a batch of popcorn. “There was this realization that we have become a very wasteful and over-indulgent society, and [knowing this] has scorned the natural essence of our hearts, turning them dark,” said Lopez. He thought of the orchid’s fluidity. “It’s almost holding onto itself,” he added, “even though it knows that death is eminent. It’s a tug of war of life, death, and rebirth.”
Rather than discarding that popcorn, what if we treated it as the last grain on earth? wondered Lopez. “How do we bring life back into something that is cultured to be forgotten, from the onslaught of a single aroma?”
Focused, and likely hungry, he headed into the kitchen to create.
Chef Phillip Lopez will serve his interpretations of Jacqueline Bishop’s work during the Art of Food dinner, on October 22 at the Louisiana Public Broadcasting studios. $125 tickets are available at lpb.org/boxoffice.