Taste the Art at Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spring Benefit
Local chefs create dishes based on artwork for Palette on April 6.
Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.
Chef Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Café with her dish of pork belly with ume sauce and turnips, inspired by a Hiroshige woodblock print of plum blossoms.
Chef Lee Anne Wong is a visual person. Before attending culinary school, she studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She also collects art. So when the Honolulu Museum of Art began to look for chefs to cook for its April 6 spring benefit Palette—an event featuring food inspired by works from the collection—she was a natural choice.
Along with Wong, the event features chefs Kevin Lee of Pai Honolulu, Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of MW Restaurant, and HoMA’s Robert Paik. They were invited to wander the museum and browse a selection of images of artworks and select one on which to base a trio of dishes—two small bites and one full plated course.
Wong selected Utagawa Hiroshige’s famous woodblock print Plum Estate, Kameido, which Vincent van Gogh liked so much he copied it as an oil painting in 1877.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan over the years and my favorite time there is March to April, when it is plum and cherry blossom season,” explains Wong. “Plum blossoms are just as beautiful and ume is one of my favorite flavors in Japanese cuisine. It’s very versatile and a great accent to a lot of different foods. So I am looking forward to Palette where we’ll be doing three different dishes with ume—a tomato salad, organic chicken breast and glazed pork belly.”
Taking inspiration from a Chinese tortoise shell brush, chef Kevin Lee of Pai Honolulu “painted” carrot-miso purée onto the plate of his Carrots and Grains creation.
Lee is an intellectual chef who creates restrained drama with his cuisine. “It was nice to be able to take a break from the everyday and go to the museum and let my mind wander,” says Lee, who found inspiration in the China Gallery in the form of an ink brush, a brush holder and a scrolled stand. “They’re kind of my style and personality of being minimalistic. They are really well made—you can see the detail that went into making them.”
He sees the brush as the artist’s equivalent of a chef’s knives, which can be revealing about the owner. “A cook has the same outlook as a painter—you can tell a lot by someone’s knife, how well they take care of it, what type of personality that person has.”
Lee directly translated his chosen object to movement—painting carrot-miso purée in a dramatic stroke on the plate for the Carrots and Grains dish he created for Palette. Along with the purée are roasted baby carrots, lentils, quinoa and carrot-top pesto.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings inspired museum chef Robert Paik to create the classic spring dish of chilled pea soup with crème fraîche and fresh mint.
Paik looked for artwork that evoked spring and homed in on the lush greens of Georgia O’Keeffe’s trio of Maui landscapes hanging in the Modernism Gallery, especially Waterfall—No. III—‘Īao Valley. “When I look at it, because I think about food so much, I go, ‘Oh wow, it reminds me of a pea soup with crème fraîche,’” which is exactly what he is making, the crème fraîche drizzled like the painting’s white waterfall lines.
There are different experiences to be had at Palette, which offers individual tickets for $200 and tables for $1,500 (these are sold out), $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000. Five stations in the Central Courtyard will each serve two different bite-size dishes. Individual ticket holders can sample them all, along with cocktail pairings. In addition, all galleries will be open and guests can hear museum curators talking about the artworks that inspired the food.
Palette, April 6, 6–9 p.m. See event details and purchase tickets online.
Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.