It’s not a stretch to say that food can be art. But new event company ArtCubed aims to take it to another level with its monthlong ARTXFOOD experience.
Started for the purpose of creating accessible, immersive encounters that combine various art forms, ArtCubed’s debut project features the contemporary work of L.A. artist Greg Ito and a four-course dinner inspired by the art. The wine-paired meal is created by Top Chef alum Richard Blais, who owns San Diego restaurant Juniper & Ivy and expanding fried chicken chain Crack Shack.
“Chef Richard Blais and artist Greg Ito are both visionaries in their field,” ArtCubed founder Ariel Gordon says of the decision to book the duo. “They're creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, willing to take risks and be playful, [and] they embrace the power of experience.”
As with many creative ventures in the City of Angels, a Hollywood soundstage — in this case Goya Studios — served as the blank canvas for ArtCubed. In that space a literal “cube” (four walls) was constructed and Ito helped create a dining area inside to host the 56-seat supper club. A long communal table and smaller private tables sit under the glow of pink neon lights and a chandelier. Ito’s colorful paintings, with simple, recognizable images such as hands and birds, hang on the walls and outside the cube, where you’ll also find his whimsical sculptures of swans with neon wings, a large frog and towering candles with neon flames. As in a gallery, everything is for sale.
Ito crafted more than 40 pieces for the installation, titled “Hallowed Ground.” In this context of art and cuisine, Ito says, it refers to the sacred space of the dinner table where he shares food with family and friends.
“With a recent death in my family, I look at time with a renewed sense of preciousness,” Ito says. “We are not here forever and we should value the time we have with one another. This is why time-based symbols like candles burning and hourglasses are a focus in many of the works.”
Blais echoed the candle theme in his food by creating bone marrow candles designed to be served at each table with soft, sweet Parker House rolls that diners could dip in the melted fat. Since the fire marshal shut that down, the candles were used on preview night as outdoor decor and diners were served a small bowl of the melted marrow for dipping instead. Blais says he’s considering changing some of the menu throughout the month, so perhaps the extinguished candle idea will be switched out.
A bowl of cherries Manhattan “cocktail” is another quirky dish that touches on Blais’s molecular gastronomy roots. It looks like a cherry in a bowl but is actually a liquid gel of cherry and bourbon stuffed with an almond jelly pit.
Since he’s become a restaurateur and had to craft menus with a wider appeal, Blais says it’s “liberating” to create art-based food that’s outside the box (or inside the cube, in this case).
A “Bird in Hand” hand roll — a nod to Ito’s use of birds — has fried chicken oysters and raw tuna in a sesame leaf, served on a terra cotta plant pot base.
“Unicorn Soup” may sound like the latest rainbow-hued Instagram food but its cheeky name refers to the uni and corn ingredients. The sweet corn soup is poured at each table from a can with a custom Campbell’s-esque label. Blais says he grew up on canned food and has always wanted to execute this idea, so it wasn’t as Ito-inspired, but it still makes sense with its playful, Warhol vibe.
Presentation also plays a key role in the “Black Swan” entree, inspired by Ito’s swan sculptures. It arrives covered in a cloche that’s lifted to reveal the dish and release its smoke and campfire aroma. The on-trend creation is actually charcoal-dyed black duck (Blais says you can’t serve swan in California) with black wild rice and a pomegranate and walnut sauce inspired by the Iranian stew fesenjan. It’s served with a side of sweet cooked black carrots garnished with chamomile flowers.
Blais saw tension in some of Ito’s work and says he created that in the duck by making “something delicious out of something that looks burnt.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ito’s bright color palette shows up in Blais’ dessert, a take on Australian kids treat Fairy Bread. Ironically titled “Best Picnic Ever!!!” it features a paper plate topped with white bread, sweet frostinglike buttercream, kombucha-infused strawberries, violet ice cream, rainbow sprinkles and, in a cruel twist of picnic fate, candied ants. Yes, real ants.
“I like to think it expressed some of the irony or emotional disappointment in some of [Greg’s] stuff,” Blais says.
Ultimately, attendees aren’t the only ones in on the ArtCubed experience. Blais and Ito learned to appreciate each other’s work more and see their own work in a new light.
“[Richard’s] craft as a chef is not much different from mine, because in the end we are both artists striving to create memorable work that aims to shift perceptions,” Ito ays. “Seeing and experiencing Richard's food for the first time, I was completely moved. The themes and imagery in my work blossom in his food.”
After ARTXFOOD’s run, ArtCubed’s next experience will fuse art and nightlife and from there, other art and subculture pairings.
ARTXFOOD runs Tuesday-Sunday until June 3 with 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seatings at Goya Studios, 1541 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets start at $189 for a welcome cocktail, four-course meal and entry to the exhibit. ArtCubed Plus tickets are $235 and include all that plus top-shelf liquor, a limited-edition Greg Ito piece and other perks. artcubedla.com.