Thursday, April 9, 2009

Would You Like Some Art With That?

Yummy food and local art - it's a hard combination to beat, right? 

There are some inspired food combos out there - steak and potatoes, peanut butter and jelly, pepperoni pizza and Ranch dressing (hey, foodies of the stuck-up variety, don't act like you don't stand at the refrigerator at three in the morning dipping those 'Nilla Wafers in that tub of Nestle chocolate chip cookie dough) - but for my money, I'll take some pretty pictures served up with my supper any day. 

There are a few places in T-Town that offer a side dish of local art. One of them is Thyme: An American Bistro, operated by the elite local chef Bill Harris

Harris, a favorite among fans of the local food movement for his menus based on seasonal ingredients produced by area farmers or grown on his own farm, hosted an opening for Tulsa painter Deborah Berry Tuesday night. The timing was certainly right. Berry's work was inspired by the gardens she remembers from her youth. Her subjects? Flowers, flowers and more flowers. 

A particular piece caught my eye. Bright orange poppies on green stems sprang out from a deep blue background - Berry's love for color is apparent in each of the pieces hanging at Thyme right now - and since I work with these colors often in my knitting and quilting, I had to know more about the creative process behind that painting. 

She said that, first, she turns on some music. Berry is a classically trained pianist, and she played for 15 years before her farsightedness prevented her from reading those little music notes on the staff any longer. Still, the rhythm in music guides her in her painting. The music's flow told her where on the canvas to put those orange flowers, and the painting was what Berry called "a push and pull" from there.

Oh, boy. I love talking to artists. 

It's arguable whether good food is art or craft, but either way, I love to eat just as much as I love a chat with someone who makes his or her living from creativity. That includes chefs, and that includes especially Chef Bill Harris. Not only is he open, friendly and extremely funny, but he is sharp, knowledgeable and, most fun, passionate about what he does. While some chefs are content to let others run their kitchens while they avoid anyone in the community who isn't an oil company CEO, Harris has been in his kitchen every time I've called his restaurant. On his days off, he volunteers. 

He's not one of those chefs who just gives lip service to Tulsa's farmers and food producers - he uses local, seasonal food as the cornerstone of his entire menu. Try to find tomatoes in what he's cooking right now - you won't find them. Know why? Because tomatoes aren't ready to pick in Tulsa, Oklahoma, until June at the earliest. Anyone who has tasted the difference between a trucked-in, out-of-season tomato with one that's homegrown and picked at the peak of ripeness knows why Harris doesn't waste his time cooking with anything else, and why you shouldn't, either. 

Berry's show will hang at Thyme until next month. Head over soon, and while you're nourishing your soul, don't forget to nourish your taste buds, too. 

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