What happens when you take two things that are great on their own, like art and food, and combine them? Chef Patricia Clark has been experimenting with the way our sense of sight and our sense of taste interact, and has been finding some very interesting connections between the two. I met Patricia last March, when she catered an Artist Dinner for Baang + Burne Contemporary. Since then, Patricia has continued to host Art Dinners in collaboration with individual artists who inspire her. I had the chance to attend her most recent Art Dinner  at Nomad on Second Ave. featuring photography by Eric S. Killen.

Patricia’s Art Dinners are so much more than a simple sit-down dinner with artwork.  Before the event, she works closely with each artist, selecting four images that she connects to and lets them inspire her dishes.  Rather than thinking about the food first, as she normally would, she thinks about how the art makes her feel and tries to recreate that feeling in her cooking.  “I love the idea of showing up someplace, having this inspired experience, and translating from one medium to another,” she said in an interview before the Art Dinner.  In this case, the influence was clear: the third course of squid stuffed with braised short-ribs over black risotto and zucchini ribbons picked up on the colors and textures of Eric’s photograph.  About the third photograph, Patricia said, “There’s more going on than what’s immediate, you have to keep looking.”  She let that feeling influence her composition of the dish.

When I met up with Patricia prior to the art dinner, we connected about living in Italy and the culinary culture there.  Patricia received her cooking degree from Le Cordon Bleu and spent five years working in restaurants in Tuscany, Umbria and Sardinia.  Though this art dinner was inspired by Eric’s Water & Sky series, for her previous collaboration with him, they used photos from his travels in Italy.  When designing a menu for such an event, every dish is different.  Patricia first thinks of the ingredients, the plays around with them like a puzzle, adjusting the texture and taste.  I’m always impressed by chefs who seem able to create an infinite number of variations on a dish.  When I asked Patricia if she has any favorite flavors or dishes that she keeps coming back to, she said, “Risotto, truffles, stuffed pastas in the winter, and pickles of various kinds with various things.”  She often uses Italian products, especially cheeses and truffles.

For this dinner, truffles appeared in a very unexpected place: dessert.  When the last course of almond cake with black truffle zabaglione, clear caramel and smoked blueberries came out, I was curious to see how she would pull off such an unusual combination of flavors. She told me later that she made the clear caramel with vanilla liqueur instead of vanilla extract, so the color remained translucent. But my favorite part of the dish was the smoked blueberries, which seemed like a perfect way of referencing the vast sense of air and sky in Eric’s final photo. “I like it when one ingredient wakes you up,” Patricia said, and for me those blueberries were it.

Patricia started hosting Art Dinners because she wanted more interaction.  She’s done three Art Dinners now, and her favorite part is showing how she’s inspired by other artists.  In the catering world, she typically spends most of her time interacting with the client, and rarely has the chance to get to know the guests.  The Art Dinners on the other hand remain intimate, with seating for a maximum of 30 people.  Eric got to know the guests as well, moving from table to table in order to explain the stories behind his photos.  As people slowly filtered out of the restaurant at the end of the night, Patricia said goodbye to each one of them by name.  You can bet they’ll be back for her next Art Dinner.

Patricia is planning two Art Dinners for September. For more information, email [email protected] and check out her website.  Read more about Patricia Clark in the Ice Cream Takedown.

Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz