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Feasting On Fine Art And Fulfilling Food

Oct 29, 2015

Take a delicious appetizer or a sinful chocolate dessert and pair it with a Georgia O’Keefe poppy or a Rembrandt portrait and the result is the “Food + Art” cookbook.

The book, which is produced by The Stuart Society, both benefits the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg (255 Beach Drive N.E.) and marks the museum’s 50th anniversary.

Stuart Society member Toni Lydecker, an experienced cookbook author, food writer and editor, was asked to edit the cookbook.

The Stuart Society sponsored another cookbook in the 1970s called “Gourmet Gallery.” Initially, the thought was to reprint that book.

Instead, only some of recipes from the “Gourmet  Gallery” book made it into their new “community” effort, “Food + Art.”

“We really ended up going for recipes in a wide array of Tampa Bay people, many of them connected to the Arts Museum and Stuart Society members, museum staff, artists, collectors, all types of community leaders of various sorts,” Lydecker said.

Even with a limit of one submission per person, they still ended up with more than 100 recipes. Each was tested and tasted before inclusion.

“It was really terrific to have all of these recipes, but also the stories that go with them,” Lydecker said.

One such story comes from Maggie Jensen, who submitted a recipe for greens with grapes, blue cheese & walnuts.

“My mother made this salad when I was growing up. After I went away to college, it was the first recipe I phoned home for. The salad became one of my dorm room staple dinners, and I have continued to make it ever since,” Jensen is quoted as saying in the book.

Maggie Jensen's Greens with Grapes, Blue Cheese & Walnuts is one of more than 100 community recipes and stories shared in the new "Food Art" cookbook.
Credit Eve Edelheit / The Stuart Society

Such stories and recipes link the community to the Museum of Fine Arts, according to museum director Kent Lydecker, who is also Toni’s husband.

“I always think a great work of art opens up the world and that can be true, it is true, for the visual arts,” Kent Lydecker said. “But it’s also true of a fine meal and beautiful creations of the culinary art.”

And many of the museum’s great works of art can be found in the cookbook. The endpapers are encyclopedic in nature, capturing the range of museum works from "Woman Reading" by Renoir to "Milk Drop Coronet" by Harold Edgerton.

Artistic images are also sprinkled generously throughout the pages, adding another dimension of seasoning to the recipes.

“I’m flipping through the book randomly and looking at this absolutely stunning recipe for cucumber gazpacho and juxtaposition it with two west Mexican sculptures,” Lydecker said. “It’s a couple with their hands raised and whatever the purpose of the art, it tells me, I’ve got to check out that gazpacho, it’s so much fun.”

An example of "Food Art" cookbook's blending of sculptures and recipes to create a richer experience.
Credit Eve Edelheit / The Stuart Society

Lydecker and his museum staff randomly pulled 75 key works for the book designers to include, with no conditions other than play and get creative.

“Think about it:  every work of art in this museum, somebody made it with their hands. Same thing with a great meal, somebody made it with their hands,” Lydecker said.

He contributed a potato, pancetta and green onion frittata recipe because its simplicity reminds him of how artists create “amazing things from the most ordinary of ingredients.”

And he said like any great meal, great art should be shared.

“It’s boring to dine by yourself. It’s great to dine with your family, your friends,” Lydecker said.”The same is true when looking at art: do it in community with other people.”

Back at the Lydecker kitchen, his wife, Toni, combines the olive oil sauce with the cooked pasta and broccoli rabe.

The Food + Art cookbook is available at the Museum of Fine Arts gift store in St. Petersburg and can be ordered online.