The art of the meal
A slew of new restaurants have opened that are not just photogenic, but artful. As Randi Bergman learns, for many creatives, eateries are the new coveted gallery space
Any Instagrammer worth his or her salt would know that dining out in 2017 is only partly about the culinary experience. The main course for diners, these days, is the opportunity to flex their aesthetic muscles capturing perfect snapshots not of their meals, but of the restaurant itself.
At Toronto's La Palma restaurant, which opened in May, the walls are just as appealing as the kitchen's northern Italian fare. The sunlit dining spot features a swirling pastel mural by Madison van Rijn. Elsewhere, the art is less literal. At Toronto chef Brandon Olsen's buzzy La Banane restaurant, the paint splattered chocolate "Disco Egg" is the most-ordered dessert item, unveiling artisanal truffles when cracked open.
Of course, art in restaurants is not new – Mark Rothko's famed commission and subsequent cancellation for the Four Seasons restaurant at New York's Seagram Building in 1958 could be its most dramatic moment (the proletariat-minded artist revoked his work once he realized it was a dining hall for upper crust New Yorkers). But today, trendy restaurants are more akin to gallery spaces, providing a desirable showcase for rising talent.
"Art is important because it enriches the experience for our guests. It's more than decor: it's an opportunity for conversation, for contemplation," says Mia Nielsen, head of cultural programming at Drake Hotel Properties in Toronto. Nielsen has headed the art programs for the Drake's restaurants at the company's hotels in Toronto and Prince Edward County, Ont., as well as the standalone eatery in Toronto's Financial district.
The latest from the hip hotelier is its recently opened Commissary, a combination bar, bakery and hangout embedded in the artist community of Toronto's Junction neighbourhood and just down the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art's future location. Commissary features an array of works within its sprawling spot, including glossy fashion collages by Maxwell Burnstein and a technicolour textile installation by Mexican-American artist Adrian Esparza that references the building's previous life as a textile factory. Its pièce de résistance is the 35-foot digital mural by artist Alex McLeod, depicting a dense, fantastical landscape, which wraps the main dining hall.
"I think that the Commissary mural for me is a bridge between the galleries and the general public," says McLeod. "Many more people move through a successful restaurant than a successful gallery on any given day – more eyeballs, more visibility, and hopefully more dialogue."
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