Art and craft. They share similar audiences, but split crowds when it comes to applying those definitions to the work itself. It’s a dialogue that’s most often played out in studios, galleries and museums and in the occasional after-hours argument at bars or breweries. (Certainly this is the case at the Wedge.) But what if a third party — food — were to enter the conversation? Can a quality, handcrafted meal bear similarities in form and function and audience as the fields of art and craft?
On Monday, March 3, that discussion will move into Asheville’s restaurant scene with a craft-centered and elementally thematic five-course dinner called “Pairing Elements: An Artful Dining Experience.” The Bull and Beggar co-owners, Drew Wallace and Matt Dawes, will host the ticketed event at their River Arts District restaurant in the Wedge building, along with RAD artists Josh Copus, Kathryn Adams and Nick Moen. The evening features two, 40-plate seatings (at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.).
“Pairing Elements” combines the soul-powered, creative ethics of fine art and craft with the gastronomic values and culinary finesse inherent in a locally sourced, handcrafted meal. The event features five courses inspired by and tailored to fit the natural elements of earth, water, ice, fire and air.
While the notion of five courses, each with its own elemental foundation, may at first sound elaborate, Dawes, Bull and Beggar’s chef, says the entire dinner is founded on simplicity. “By simplifying the dinner into one idea, I can see how many ways I can make that single idea work,” Dawes told Xpress.
The first course, earth, will treat diners to roasted bone marrow and mushrooms served on a bed of what will appear to be edible dirt. That “dirt,” which provides an earthy aesthetic to the meal, is made of mashed mushrooms, olives and spices. “They’re both rich in umami,” Dawes says, “that richness reminded me of earth.”
Earth is followed by two water components – ice and sea. The latter partners oysters and seaweed in an effort to cleverly recreate an oceanic flavor and appearance, he says. The Fire course uses a quick play on words to momentarily transform roasted pheasant into a phoenix, freshly risen from the ashes and onto the dinner plate.
Air will close the dinner, taking the highly coveted dessert slot. For this, Dawes and the kitchen staff are making a light, near-weightless sweet treat. No pound cake with flavored whipped cream here — a carnival favorite seals the meal. “Cotton candy has that ethereal, melts-on-the-tongue texture,” Dawes says, noting that “it adds to the whole idea to take up one idea and build layers on top of it.”
The dinner also will include several wines and a specifically paired craft cocktail to be unveiled that evening. “We’re looking to keep the drinks in that same vein, aesthetically clean and straightforward,” Charlie Hodge, Bull and Beggar’s bar manager, told Xpress. That means limiting ingredients and using herbal and fragrant floral bases, he says.
But it’s not the elemental approach that sets this dinner apart from other themed dinners. Rather, it’s the all-inclusive nature of the meal. Each course and beverage will be served with a corresponding piece of handcrafted flatware, stoneware, pottery and glass. And at the end of the night, you can purchase your dinnerware to take home with you.
The idea for “Pairing Elements” grew out of several dinners that co-organizers Moen and Adams had previously taken part in: smaller craft-paired productions in Minneapolis and, more recently, a dinner called “Cup and Plate,” hosted by Spruce Pine’s Knife & Fork last July. Each of these dinners featured handmade ceramics and glass in place of factory-produced wares.
Naturally, Asheville is a perfect fit for such an idea. “Asheville, in particular, really appreciates local food,” Adams notes, “so if you’re going to be eating local food, why not eat it off local wares?”
But the dinner event at Bull and Beggar takes the idea a step further. While the other dinners each had a half-dozen or fewer artists, “Pairing Elements” features the works of 13 Wedge and RAD artists. What’s more, the works these artists have created are designed to fit each elemental theme, and in some cases, specific menu items.
Tina Councell, a metal artist whose studio is a few doors down from The Bull and Beggar, created marrow spoons for the Earth course, centerpieces and a variety of glasswares fit for the specialty cocktails, punch and water to be offered at the dinner. Adams, a glass artist, and Moen, a ceramicist, even collaborated to produce stemware for the evening’s wine offerings. Likewise, the ceramic plates mimic their earthy or watery holdings.
“This dinner is out to create a cross-pollination between the food and art cultures,” says Copus, a Wedge-based ceramicist and another of the event’s organizers. He sees the two groups as sharing similar mindsets when it comes to pursuing a quality product. “There are so many obvious parallels,” he says. “Food culture is experiential, as are the arts.”
But that connection, he notes, has been almost entirely under explored. But given the right exposure, it could garner a new body of art and craft collectors.
The dinner also has one final target: neighborhood politics. “This dinner is part of a broader dialogue,” Copus says. In the last two years, buildings, including the Wedge, have sold, and artists have left only to be replaced by businesses — including The Bull and Beggar. For some, this has created a fatalistic outlook.
“I disagree when people use these new businesses as an example of this evil of what’s happening down here,” he declares. “I dislike the sensationalism that gets attached to it.”
“I have to be conscious of whether or not I’m looking at these things through the lens of nostalgia.” That, he says, makes it easy to forget that there’s still an active and tight-knit artists community. “But you can’t do that, you can’t look through that lens,” he says. “It’s a trap.”
And so this dinner is a means to not only bring foodies and arts folk together, but also to bring part of the neighborhood together — and to show that new business can fit within the existing framework. “It’s about doing something positive,” he says, “something that shows the benefit of all the boats rising at the same time.”