An Appetite for Art at the Taft




Edward Curtis, Canyon de Chelly — Navaho (detail), 1904, photogravure. Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art, located in the National Historic Landmark, Baum — Taft house, is home to a world renowned permanent collection of treasures as well as engaging special exhibitions, programs and activities.

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Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio (Image provided by Taft Museum of Art)

The staff at the Taft strives to provide guests with an integrated experience focused on all aspects of the museum. Guests are encouraged to take in the charm of the house, its décor and furnishings, the art in permanent and special exhibit galleries, the gardens and gift shop. Not least of the Taft experience, is the thoughtfully prepared food and beverages provided by Luke Radkey, Executive Chef of the museum’s Lindner Family Café.

Luke came to the museum five years ago, “after what seemed like a lifetime peeling and chopping for chefs” at many levels of the culinary world. Luke decided, “I didn’t just want to make meals: I wanted to make memories.” Luke was uniquely prepared to realize his ambition at the Taft. He grew up in a household surrounded by art, artists and filled with the aromas of homemade stews and fresh baked bread. “Even at a young age I perceived food and art to be almost interchangeable.” said Luke. Both had a gigantic influence but professionally the kitchen prevailed. “My love of art and love of food never went away. Now I am lucky enough to embrace them both daily.”

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Taft Museum of Art, Executive Chef, Luke Radkey, Photograph by John Connors

As Executive Chef, Luke is responsible for development and execution of menus for the Lindner Family Café’s brunch, lunch and special events. In developing these menus Luke draws inspiration from the art exhibited in the museum’s galleries. The menu writing process begins with the art. Key pieces in an exhibit present: content, place and time, atmosphere, texture, composition, and sometimes subtle hints of fun, and playfulness. Observing these properties and how they relate to each other and to the whole work of art, Luke tries to develop a culinary perspective. What features translate best from the visual to those that come from the kitchen: taste, texture, temperature, aroma, composition? Does the dish reflect or evoke the period, atmosphere, impression and spirit of the art? Also, there are practical implications. Is the kitchen and equipment capable of producing the dish? Are ingredients readily available and economically appropriate? Once the nuts and bolts are taken into consideration the result should produce a seamless experience incorporating the exhibits art with a menu representing and extending that art.

Earlier this year Luke created a menu to compliment the museum’s exhibit, “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape”. The exhibit, seen in the U.S. only at the Taft Museum of Art, gave a new perspective on the birth of Impressionism. Luke’s menu drew inspiration from these early Impressionist artists. Featured were a number of dishes demonstrating the delicacies of French cuisine. Among them, Fromage Grille (grilled brie and blackberry on Brioche), Salade Bleu (arugula, pear, walnuts and blue cheese), Croque Monsieur (grilled ham, Swiss, and Boursin with Mornay sauce).

The menu also included Daubigny Crepes filled with roast duck. Daubigny was so taken with ducks that if the light faded while painting, it is said he would paint in more ducks just to continue working on a favorite piece.

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Charles François Daubigny, The Village of Gloton, 1857, oil on panel. San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, Mildred Anna Williams Collection

Last year’s exhibit, “Enduring Spirit: Edward Curtis and the North American Indians”, featured exquisite photographs taken from 1900 through 1930 portraying the lives of the Native American peoples. These moving photographs presented a challenge for Luke and his culinary team. How to reflect the pride, simplicity and respect for resources, so much a part of these tribal cuisines without unintentionally being insensitive or callous. Luke’s menu offered selections appealing to guests and providing access to flavors that reflected the Native American culture — Tanka-Me-a-Lo (a bison stew with green and red chilies, water lilies, and file) and The Three Sisters (corn, red beans and squash with sage) in a vegan stew. Other dishes, salads, seafood, poultry were also part of this innovative menu.

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Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Anna La Pradvina with Chichi and Gogo, avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Paris (detail), 1911, gelatin silver print. Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. © Estate of Jacques-Henri Lartigue

“Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray”, was the Taft Museum of Art exhibit of vintage prints by French nationals and international photographers who worked in Paris during the late 19th and early 20th century. The exhibit inspired a menu reflecting an environment that allowed artists to experiment and push societal norms. Luke developed a menu of French classics and modern, French-inspired dishes. Featured, among others were: Mushroom Crepes, Salade St. Germaine (Blue cheese, walnuts, dried cherries, cucumbers, red onion and mixed greens) and Eggs Lyonnaise (poached eggs, croissant, stewed onions and caramelized onion coulis).

July 2nd — September 25th this year, the Taft Museum of Art will feature “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times”. The period of time from 1912 through the early 1920s saw the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the birth of the Jazz Age. The events of this period had a lasting effect on people’s lives and on what they wore. The acclaimed television drama Downton Abbey, depicts this period vividly through the aristocratic lives of the Crawley family and their servants dressed in meticulously researched costumes that accurately reflect the changing fashion of the time. The exhibit will feature costumes, accessories and film stills that show the progression of women’s and men’s fashion toward more relaxed, less restrictive clothing. Fashions that mirror the societal changes altering behavior within and between economic classes. The exhibition will also draw connections to Charles Phelps and Anna Sinton Taft, contemporaries of the fictitious Crawleys, who lived in the historic house that is now the Taft Museum of Art.

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​Downton Abbey (Masterpiece / PBS). Highclere Castle ©Carnival Films

The “Dressing Downton” exhibit is an excellent opportunity for Luke and his staff to blend and extend the visual and culinary arts. The characters portrayed in Downton Abbey, residents of either upstairs or downstairs, enjoyed a rich array of dishes and the traditions that made those dishes distinctive. Some were consumed over hours of formal dining, others as time allowed, at the kitchen table. No matter. These dishes, can bring up the curtain, welcome us into the world these characters shared and help us further appreciate the tumultuous events and changes that shaped their lives.

Both the brunch and lunch menus present choices that evoke life at Downton Abbey in the early 20th century.

Share Bully Beef and Beans with the British soldiers of World War I, (tinned corned beef hash and beans with fried onions and grain mustard). Mrs. Patmore’s Pasty, is a takeoff on the traditional hand pie (pot roast, carrot, potato, onion and celery in a flakey pie crust with grain mustard and crisps). Daisy’s Summer Salad (asparagus, sweet peas, tomatoes and radish over mixed greens). Or, join the Crawleys for their Creamy Crab and Celery Salad (crab, seafood, seashell pasta, celery, carrots, and fresh herbs bound with citrus aioli over mixed greens).

At this exhibit and future exhibits the small but very special Cincinnati Taft Museum of Art, with its talented and dedicated staff from all areas of the museum will strive to uphold their mission: welcoming all people to experience a world-renowned collection and its engaging exhibitions, programs, and activities. The Museum creates a multi-dimensional experience using all of its resources to achieve the best enjoyment and learning opportunities for all.

See Taft Museum of Art Website for exhibit details, ticket information, hours and location. http://www.taftmuseum.org/ 

Call 513–352–5140 for Lindner Family Café reservations. During Dressing Downton, Café reservations are required 24 hours in advance.