Food As Art; Art As Food: The Women Chefs Exhibit at Strathmore

Artists in the Kitchen is the subtitle of this eclectic display of portraiture, and the concept is as audacious as the execution. The representations of woman chefs by woman artists range from realistic to wildly conceptual.  One, an installation just outside the main entrance to the Mansion exhibit space, resembles a set of crab traps spiked into the lawn.  Others are more traditional, though none are staid.

It’s a fascinating idea, and Susan Callahan of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (and erstwhile demo chef at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market) conceived it as the interface between cuisine and visual art.  Working with Strathmore’s curator, Harriet Lesser, she invited local artists to pair with chefs, creating tangible objects as analogs to the art created by those whose works are, by nature, as short-lived as a mayfly.

The opening was very well-attended, not only by art lovers, but by the artists and their subjects.  Carla Hall was there, posing obligingly in front of her portrait.  The “Carla Hall Paper Doll” set featured actual changes of clothing, but only the artist was allowed to play with it.  Meanie!

Opening Remarks by Harriet Lesser

Opening Remarks by Harriet Lesser

Carla Poses

Carla Poses in Front of Carla by Danni Dawson

As tasty lagniappe for the exhibit, a series of chef demonstrations was held in the Mansion.  There were nine weekly sessions, and I managed to attend five.

Fittingly, Chef Susan Callahan’s demo kicked off the series.  She brought along some of her students to learn (as she deftly deboned a chicken thigh for Summer Skillet Hash), and help serve the samples.  Words of wisdom: “If you don’t like it, don’t make it again.”

Susan Callahan in Her Jacket

Susan Callahan in Her Jacket

Chef Susan's Portrait by Judy Brown, a Botanical Illustrator

Chef Susan’s Portrait by Judy Brown, a Botanical Illustrator

Cooking isn’t her only talent.  She showed off some of her fiber art, as well as modeling her hand-dyed chef jacket.

Susan Delbert, also familiar from her stints at OFAM, had procured snakehead fish for her demo (and saved a few for her scheduled appearance at the Market on November 1).  The National Press Club’s restaurant, the Fourth Estate, is open to the public, but you won’t find snakehead on the menu there – although it has invaded most of Maryland’s rivers, it’s impossible to find commercially.

Chef Susan Delbert Stabs the Snakehead

Chef Susan Delbert Stabs the Snakehead

Her Portrait is Conceptual

Her Portrait is Conceptual, by Catherine Kleeman

Too bad, because it’s delicious, especially as Chef Susan prepared it!

Nora Poullion needs no introduction.  The long-time DC restaurateur has a very traditional-looking portrait hanging in the show – until, on closer inspection, the elaborate frame is part of the painting.  A comment on her longevity, perhaps?

Chef Nora Dishes

Chef Nora Dishes

Chef Nora's Very Formal Portrait, by Kaltoum Maroufi

Chef Nora’s Portrait, by Kaltoum Maroufi

She prepared kale salad. The audience groaned; isn’t kale over?  Until they tasted – she made it delicious, new again.  And the dish about presidents at Restaurant Nora was priceless.  “Every President came! Well, the Reagans didn’t come that much.”

Elise Wendland cooks at another venerable institution, the Comus Inn in Dickerson.  I remember when you went to the Comus for the views, and expected nothing much from the food, but that was then.  A local product (L’Academy de Cuisine in Gaithersburg), Chef Elise uses local products to make dishes such as the exemplary pumpkin risotto from her recipe card.

Chef Elise (L) and Her Sous

Chef Elise (L) and Her Sous

Chef Elise and Sugarloaf, by Carol Moore

Which, by the way, I forgot to mention!  Every portrait in the exhibit has a card with it. There’s a bio on one side and a recipe on the other.  I, of course, obsessively collected them all.

And the last chef demo was the most hyper-local, in terms of distance from my house to the chef’s restaurant.  Full On is a few miles down the road from me, and Michelle Hauser is a local girl.  She made pasta with mushrooms, marsala, chardonnay and cream, and assured us that her hair has never been green.  Conceptual art, and definitely not staid.

Chef Susan Callahan, in Another Wonderful Chef's Jacket, and Chef Michelle

Chef Susan Callahan, in Another Wonderful Chef’s Jacket, and Chef Michelle

Chef Michelle's Green Hair, by Charlene Nield

Chef Michelle’s Green Hair, by Charlene Nield

The exhibit closes November 8, so hurry over to Strathmore Mansion and see it!  It’s a visual treat, and there are still plenty of recipe cards.


About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website ( on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
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