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A chef puts his art on the plate, the white expanse of porcelain standing in for the blank field of the stretched canvas. In this era of social media, the logical extension of the chef's tabula rasa is Instagram. In the hands of a creative chef, an Instagram feed can operate like a combination interactive menu/visual diary. It can be — should be — a far cry from a catalog of what he had for breakfast.
Chef Evan Funke, who recently opened his first restaurant, Bucato, in Culver City, after years helming the stoves at Rustic Canyon, has such an Instagram feed. His posts function as a mosaic rather than a random list of pictures: an assemblage of beautiful plates, yes, but also of artwork, of food not always his own, of colleagues, of tattoos, of old Italian restaurant signage and of the red pig — the one painted on his Porchetta Truck — that wanders through the pictures, a recurrent motif.
In short, it is curated, as any good photography collection should be.
“I'm a photographer's son,” Funke says. He's at Bucato, pausing in his task of expediting plates of gnocchetti bathed in rich uni butter. “I'm very selective about what I put on it.”
Funke's father, it should be noted, is not some amateur shooter but a cinematographer who won two Oscars for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Alex Funke's son shares his talents as a visual storyteller. There are gorgeous shots of Evan Funke's dishes but also of their history: pigs on a farm, his restaurant under construction, a pen-and-ink diagram of a dish, the cross section of a rolled porchetta, a road sign featuring another red pig.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Funke's Instagram feed is that it exists at all. After all, Funke has famously banned photography in his restaurant. This is called irony, or — if we channel Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in Italy, another pig fetishist and a lover of Dante — contrapasso, the trope of having the punishment fit the crime. Funke's dishes are gorgeous, as photo-worthy as any out there, but the chef wants you to eat them, not document them. You can look at Funke's pictures instead — after your dinner, or maybe before it, but not while your plate of tagliatelle with rabbit sugo is getting cold.
Something to consider: Funke, business partner Ed Keebler and chef de cuisine Russell Victorioso are all young, heavily tattooed guys who look as if they could kick your ass in the alley behind the Helms Bakery complex if they needed to. In other words, this Don't-Facebook-Your-Dinner policy has not been handed down by a 70-year-old maître d' who thinks Tumblr is a plastic kid's toy.
“We want real hospitality, not gastro ADD,” Funke says. The food at Bucato is thoughtful, sometimes old-school cuisine, meant to be enjoyed as dinner, consumed with friends and wine and conversation. Certainly it's art but in the same way that Marcella Hazan's dishes are art: You do not spend all day making Hazan's Bolognese sauce, then take pictures of it while it cools to leftovers in the pot.
The further irony of this Instagramming chef's policy is the furor it has generated among the new school of L.A. diners, exactly the crowd who trailed Funke's Porchetta Truck, blogging and tweeting every sandwich. When Bucato opened, one frustrated blogger gave the restaurant a decidedly lukewarm review, adding photographs of unicorns and puppies in the pig-shaped hole where photos of each dish would normally be.
It was a hilarious piece but also somewhat troubling, since the reviewer seemed incapable of considering — or enjoying — his food absent photographs of it. Which is, of course, exactly Funke's point. Of both his policy and of his own beautiful pictures. Think about it.
Follow chef Evan Funke on Instagram at instagram.com/evanfunke.
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