From El Bulli to Kansas City Barbecue, Can Food Be Art?

Can food be art? It's a question with a built-in headache. What do you mean by "food," exactly? What is art? Art like gallery art? Art like, "Wow, that's gorgeous, but I paid $50 for it so I'm going to eat it anyway"?

The Telegraph's story on appropriately named bread sculptor Sharon Baker makes a strong case for the maximum affirmative—food can be high art, indeed. When you're able to turn a perishable daily staple into an uncannily realistic sculpture of a mummified severed foot, you've created, you've crafted, and you've provoked.

Efforts to preserve the memory of Ferran Adrià's Spanish temple of molecular gastronomy, El Bulli (a massive, gorgeous book; a minimal yet ponderous art movie), seem to endorse the idea that, elevated sufficiently high, even entrées are worthy of immortality. These celebrations of El Bulli, which served its final meal on July 30, aren't about preserving memories of eating, or even feasting. They're part worship, part academic exercises in cataloging something most people would have rather just tasted. How long before Noma ascends from the mortal world into food-art Valhalla?

And there's something inherently elitist about positing the fancy restaurant as gateway to edible-art nirvana. Even the wealthy have to queue and fuss to get through the doors of food temples like Noma, just as they did at El Bulli. If you want to go to their American aspirational equivalents like Coi or Manresa, it'll cost you—hundreds of dollars per person per meal. At $80, El Bulli's no bargain, even in book form.

Can Kentucky bourbon ever be art? Kansas City barbecue? Craft beer? Alder-smoked Lake Superior whitefish? No—they're just food or drink, and far too easy to get. Even at their best, they're merely craft.

And for those of us who eat or drink them as often as we can, that's a lucky break.

Image source: elbullimovie.com