Founded in 1939 by three women, Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center has come a long way from being located in the basement of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Like the city itself, the museum has undergone many changes, and the CAC wants to show off the ever-changing cultural landscape of Cincinnati with a new cookbook, Cuisine Art Cocktails: Celebrating Contemporary Cincinnati.
The project started in the spring of 2015, according to Maria Kalomenidou, the project manager and creative director for the book. “The CAC is run by volunteers, and every year the docent council gets together to come up with a fundraising idea for the education programs,” Kalomenidou says, “This year they decided on the idea of a cookbook.”
Cuisine Art Cocktails: Celebrating Contemporary Cincinnati is no ordinary cookbook.
“When we first started, the idea was just for a cookbook, but progressively we thought about the up-and-coming life of OTR and downtown, and we wanted to make something that truly reflected the creativity of those chefs,” she says. The book involves 26 talented chefs, three mixologists and one sommelier, each creating a dish or drink based off a contemporary art piece.
“When finding chefs, we knew for this project we wanted to work with top chefs of Cincinnati,” says museum director Raphaela Platow. Chefs were allowed a great degree of freedom as they interpreted their chosen art.
“The chefs could research any artist they wanted, and they had complete freedom to come up with anything,” says Kalomenidou. “That is why you see some overlaps in ingredients — we didn’t want to interfere with their work.”
Mike Florea of Maribelle’s eat + drink jumped at the chance to be a part of the project. “I was approached and I thought it was exciting,” he says. “Not just for the CAC or for Maribelle’s, but also for the city. Projects like this that give back to the 513 are easy for me to do.”
As inspiration for his dish, Florea chose a piece by contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey. “Fairey is epic in the sense that he is able to speak his mind though art,” Florea says. “I think culinary is the same way — expressing yourself through your work.”
Coming up with a dish wasn’t hard.
“I like the simplicity of his work and how straightforward it is, so I went caprese — simple, yet it isn’t going anywhere,” he says. Then Florea decided to make the dish fancier — he added octopus and shishito peppers. “The blacks and reds of (Fairey’s) work are bold, so that guided the colors,” says.
Platow says her two favorite dishes are seafood crudités from Derek Dos Anjos of The Anchor-OTR, inspired by “Dogwood Park 4” by Polly Apfelbaum, and a lobster salad with black barely from Julie Francis of Nectar, inspired by Louise Bourgeois’ painting “Maman.”
The team at the CAC did not want to interfere with the work of their photographer, Gina Weathersby. Both Kalomenidou and Platow agree that Weathersby was a great asset to their team. “Her creativity knows no limits,” says Platow.
“She immediately loved the project,” Kalomenidou says. “And she did a great job working with the creativity of the chefs.”
Reading the book, there is a great sense of community, from the first couple of pages seeing all of the chefs that wanted to be involved, to the back cover and the list of volunteers that helped put the book together.
“This was really the best Cincinnati has to offer,” Kalomenidou says. “And the best part is that this whole project was a community of people working together to help another community of people.”
The CAC celebrates the cookbook at a gala and art auction Friday (cocktails start at 6:30 p.m.; tickets start at $250). Proceeds benefit the museum’s education programs, and the event will feature food made by 12 chefs and mixologists from the book, including Francis of Nectar, Dave Taylor of Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Molly Wellmann of Wellmann’s Brands and Danny Combs of Sotto.
For more information on CUISINE ART COCKTAILS: CELEBRATING CONTEMPORARY CINCINNATI, or to purchase of copy of the book, visit contemporary-artscenter.org.