Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Real Food Rehab Holiday Gift Guide: Laura Letinsky

Years ago, I went to art school to study photography and the school's museum had a world class photo collection; everything from André Kertész to Garry Winogrand and Barbara Kruger. You could make an appointment with the archives, slip on some white cotton gloves, and request to have a private audience with any piece in the collection. It was there I was first struck by Laura Letinsky's work. To me, her still lifes were like Dutch paintings with their exquisite modeling of light, color and texture and I loved the way they stirred curious imaginings in my head, like, "What exactly happened at that table?" Years later, we met through a mutual friend and I discovered she's a serious eater and cook. I will brag and say she once made me bouillibase and garlic aioli from scratch. I am thrilled to introduce you to both Laura's work and her excellent taste...

WHO Laura Letinsky is an artist and a professor at the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Art. Her ongoing photographic still life project examines what is “after the fact,” what (ma)lingers, what persists and by inference, what is gone. Her pictures have been shown at various museums and galleries including The Cleveland Museum, Michael Sturm Galerie, Stuttgart, Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea, Rome, Casino Luxenbourg, The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Renaissance Society, Chicago, and the Nederlands Foto Institute. Laura is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York and Monique Meloche in Chicago.
(I encourage you to click and enlarge these images)

THE GIFT For me, there's a long list of requisite eating associated with this time of year transitioning from summer’s ceviches, cold borscht, and lime drinks into fall’s butternut squash ravioli and concord grapes to winter’s pomegranates, egg nog with rum, Manhattan's, citrus in all guises and finally, cassoulet. But when it comes to the holidays I’m a traditionalist and eschew most innovations. I’m more of a salt-aholic, but a Christmas treat of Vosges Bapchis Caramel Toffee has become an essential. It's sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, chocolate-y, nutty, caramel-y (you get the idea) perfection.
In close competition are two childhood treats, Poppycock and Terry’s Chocolate Orange, definitely not on par with Proust’s madeleine, but nostalgic nonetheless. In my mind this relates to a well-trod dilemma, the conflict between aesthetics and ethics in the sense that while Vosges is superior by any evaluation, I remain faithful to enacting an experience that despite all rational, still connects me to the way it was back then. And, if you can follow the tangent - that is why I’m a photographer.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE? Chicago, Illinois

WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Kids, husband, garden, porcini, pork belly....

GO-TO DISH WHEN COOKING FOR YOURSELF? It is my habit, addiction, and joy to cook almost daily for me, my family, and friends. Over the years I’ve come to rely on a range of dishes, primarily Mediterranean-influenced, that emphasize good ingredients and simple preparations such as trofie pasta with oil-roasted cherry tomatoes (from my garden), garlic, oregano and sheep’s milk feta. Or, octopus that has been simmered for a couple of hours in wine, lemon and herbs, then cut into sections and sautéed along with Yukon Gold potatoes, garlic (my garden!), parsley, and olive oil, til the edges of the potatoes and octopus get crispy, then served atop a bed of balsamic and olive oil-dressed arugula (and for its weed-like behavior, I am profoundly grateful).

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