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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Column: Edible art

There are certain concepts that come to mind when you think of the term “art”. In the visual art world, painting, sculpture, cinematography and dance are usually the top contenders when it comes to what is conventionally defined as art. But did you ever think about one that is much tastier on the palette? Yep, I’m talking about culinary arts — the edible art form that is both pleasing to the eye and the taste buds.

Last winter during a trip to Las Vegas, I was introduced to someone through a mutual friend. I didn’t really know him too well until he started posting these amazing photographs of his culinary creations on Facebook. And now, here I am, writing this entire column about him (yes, be very flattered Jeffrey Rene Ver Palileo aka JR).

JR, who graduated from UC Davis in 2008, started a personal culinary project called Sous La Terre. His aim is to bring the culinary world to everyday people by integrating a style of New American cuisine with a great sense of creativity and innovation.

I was extremely intrigued at how each dish looks like a sculpture or painting in a way. With a good sensibility paired with food photography, JR transforms food into art form. Just like how I create using my canvas, paint and paintbrush, JR constructs colorful plates using various sauces and layering of ingredients to complete a composition.

I wanted to know some of JR’s secrets so I Facebook-messaged him Tuesday to do a very informal Q & A with me for this column.

How would you describe your passion for culinary arts?

I can’t think of a better way to connect with people other than to serve them something good that I’ve made with my hands (on a side note, I’m sure some sort of sexual innuendo would be fitting after having said that).

What are your thoughts on the college eating lifestyle?

I’m willing to bet that when most college students do groceries, they end up spending a lot of money because they usually get more products than they can consume in an appropriate amount of time, as do most Americans —  my case in point being my mother. Shit goes bad and moldy in the fridge all the time, mostly because she loves to buy in bulk because, well, “It was on sale.”

How is food an art form to you?

Now, let’s be honest. Most college students aren’t going to have the time or resources to prepare intricate six-course meals for their roommates. It’s all good. Do what you can, just so long as it’s enjoyable; but if you can bust out with some fancy French technique or feel like dabbling in a little bit of molecular gastronomy, I’m all for it. I respect those who try to make food more than what it is, just so long as there’s a respect for the process and a respect for the ingredients. I think food becomes an art form once the artist understands the basics, and from there, decides to take the work into his or her own hands to shape its focus and direction to convey meaning and invoke emotion. Those are the cooks and chefs that really get it, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from doing an entire year of Sous La Terre, it’s exactly that. I can wow people with amazingly executed dishes with sous vide meats, foams, purées and such, but I can just about equally win anyone’s heart with a simple pasta dish.

What is your best low-cost but classy recipe us kids can make?

The best “low cost/tasty but classy” dish to make: bread pudding. First, you can use up all that old, stale bread you have laying around. Second, even though it’s fairly simple, it involves a decent amount of technique, so it keeps it fun in the kitchen. Third, depending on what variation you decide to do, you can make it sweet or savory, and you can eat it hot or cold. It’s the perfect dish to make that would last you all week.

UYEN CAO would like to know what surprisingly tasty recipes you have conjured up while being a desperate, hungry and broke college student. Let her know by e-mailing arts@theaggie.org.

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