Flash in the Pan 

Critiquing the culinary arts

Here is Chef Boy Art patrolling the downtown gallery openings. He wants food. With his aesthetic advisor, Rocky, to chaperone him through artistic waters about which he has no business writing, Chef Boy Art endeavors to expose the truth, for all to see, behind the First Friday Gallery Crawl.

The Flower Bed, a gallery and flower shop at 136 E. Broadway, has a food table conspicuously located at 10 o’clock on moocher’s left as you enter. Dawn Podolske, the owner, had done some time in the kitchen that day, baking grandma’s pecan sandies and chocolate krinkles. Her husband Shark, a shady-looking character, offered us a choice between Shiraz and Chardonnay. Rocky and I both chose the former, whose fragrant bouquet proved a delicate complement to the smoked gouda and curried hummus on rice crackers, not to mention the chocolate-covered rice crispy treats, lemon bars, dried cranberries, and fresh cherries. That’s when Rocky belched.

Because I was chewing with my mouth open, I didn’t hear the rager of a party that was developing behind my back. Lots of folks had turned out because it seems that there was some art on display: two photography exhibits featuring places that are near and dear to the heart of Chef Boy Art. The black and white images of Brazil by Nicole Tavennor were a window into the kaleidoscopic spectrum of humanity in that mammoth melting pot to the south. Meanwhile, color photographs by Independent photographer Chad Harder focused on the glaciers and the neon blue-green glacial lakes of the continental crown cap. These pretty pictures were bittersweet in light of the fact that those glaciers and glacial lakes are fast drying up, and may all be gone by 2030.

As much as Chef Boy Art wanted to linger in such exotic and important places, duty called. The next stop, 331 E. Broadway, was a little-bitty house holding Birnbaum’s Broadway Frame. On display were the whimsical ceramic works of Paul Northway, which I noticed out of the corner of my eye en route to the food table. I had toted my plastic cup all the way from the Flower Bed, and was happy to refill it with some very nice Chianti, which I sipped while contemplating the spread. My attention was drawn to a loaf-like object that I suspected of being salmon-based. “Be careful” I reminded myself, “could be Spam.”

As I contemplated the identity of this loaf, a sensitive looking dude spread some on a cracker. I asked him what it was. “Definitely liver” he said, “this here is paté.” His companion took a bite and announced “I think it might be Spam.” Meanwhile, two patrons were discussing the virtues of red Twizzlers, also available. “The good thing about Twizzlers” said one, “is you don’t have eat them now. You can bring them to places where there isn’t any food, offer them to people, and everyone feels good.” Chef Boy Art made a note to self. Meanwhile, Rocky had managed to nose out the fact that the gallery owner, Nancy Birnbaum, purposefully chooses her food to viscerally and aesthetically complement the art on display. I applaud that gutsy blend of form and function, as well as that tasty loaf, which turned out to be salmon. As I chewed, I took a moment to dig the art, especially the autoerotic masterpiece entitled “Cardwell’s Union.” I would be hard pressed to describe it, other than to say that it’s blue and gray, and both Robert Mapplethorpe and my double-jointed yoga instructor would gasp.

From there, we hit Higgins, almost entering a store called Traditions, but they were playing Christmas music so we bailed. Next door at Gallery Saintonge, amazingly gorgeous photographs of nature and staircases (?!?) were almost enough to distract me from the hands-down culinary highlight of the evening: baby snap peas stuffed with herbed cheese and red pepper, smoked ahi tuna wrapped in sesame cucumber veneer, sliced boiled egg topped with caviar on multi-flaked cracker. The woman playing harp and flute in the window didn’t hurt. And, omigod, the food, prepared by Missoula caterer Greg Watkiss.

At the Catalyst, we faced a plate of chocolate truffles that were not a problem. Also not a problem were the watercolors on the wall by Elaine Conder—beautiful pictures that celebrate Missoula in a down-to-earth way. I especially dug the photo of Hmong vegetable vendors entitled “Early Morning Market” and the portrait of small-town bliss entitled “Neighborhood Sunset.”

We ended up at one of my favorite galleries anywhere, Laughing Boy, which features a whimsical and ever-evolving montage of goods that delicately straddle the line between form and function—to such a degree that I could only chant “Not worthy, not worthy.” On special this month were some bright and yummy looking scarves by Deborah Bush, who assured us that there were no bodily fluids used in the dye. “Don’t quote me on that” said Bush. Culinarily, I was sadly underwhelmed by the Albertsons-grade food at Laughing Boy, but that gallery is so darn much fun that it’s worth the trip for the art alone!

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@missoulanews.com

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