Foodies and art aficionados alike can feast their eyes on delectable still lifes in the special exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis on view at the de Young through June 2. With the abundance of delicious artwork on view, it is only fitting that the de Young Café provides equally delicious food to satiate cravings experienced while inside the exhibition.
The Dutch Golden Age saw the rise of an affluent middle class whose cultural and domestic center was in the home. Although far from lavish, Dutch aristocrats took pride in decorating their homes with high quality artwork crafted on an intimate scale. Domestic interiors were often the subject of Dutch painting, including objects found within the home such as flowers, glass goblets, and of course, food.
This interest in artwork, combined with an influx of exotic animals and plants from far-flung Dutch colonies, fomented a bustling still-life painting industry. Recognizing this robust market, artists made a point of specializing in a particular subject matter such as fish or flowers, much like a chef concentrates on a specific type of cuisine.
Lucas Schoemaker is president and executive chef of McCalls Catering and Events, as well as our own resident Dutchman. Together with de Young Café executive chef Jason Smith, Schoemaker has created a menu inspired by the exhibition and his homeland.
When asked whether the overflowing abundance seen in Dutch still-life painting is representative of what one may have found on the table, Schoemaker responds, “Oh yes, except that in paintings they use Snook, which is a river fish—very bony and not very good to eat.”
Schoemaker notes another discrepancy between art and life: the presence of fruit. Although tropical fruits were frequently imported from more southerly locals such as Spain or Italy, they were not commonplace on the Dutch dinner table. Rather those particular delicacies were reserved and used as models for still-life painting.
Holland’s northern climate also influenced food preferences. Schoemaker recalls of his youth in the Netherlands: “We were always riding our bicycles in very cold weather, which makes you want to eat very hearty foods, like potatoes, which are a Dutch staple.” The potato proved even more valuable during the Second World War, when Dutch people survived insubstantial food rations by eating potatoes (and tulip bulbs) that lay hidden, buried in the ground. “The Germans could never figure out how the Dutch were feeding themselves,” says Schoemaker.
Just as painters carefully arrange the elements of their paintings, chefs also attentively compose their dishes. When plating, chefs organize the food so as to guide the diner through their meal, taking into consideration the sequence in which flavors should be enjoyed, says Smith. “The order that food should be eaten has to be understood visually,” Smith adds.
Similarly, still life painters guide the viewer’s eye across a canvas, highlighting a particularly skillful treatment.
Satisfy all your senses with a visit to Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis followed by lunch at the de Young Café!