By David Hammond
At Fulton Market Kitchen (311 North Sangamon), you can have dinner prepared by Chef Chris Curren (Seven Lions, Homestead) while an artist-in-residence slaps paint on canvas in the central dining room.
We’ve found the artists at FMK to be very open to talking about their craft, and watching them paint while you eat is much more entertaining than, say, gazing blankly at a flat screen over the bar.
In many of the dramatic eating areas of the restaurant, artworks crowd the walls in the style of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon. Like Stein’s famous collection, this is a very wow-it’s-now selection of intense contemporary creations that contribute to a vibrant and visually compelling space, consistently providing something cool to look at when there’s a lull in dinner table conversation.
We talked with Curren (executive chef) and Daniel Alonso (managing partner) about the restaurant and the food served there.In what ways is a culinary experience similar to the experience of a work of art?
CURREN: My personal belief is that, for food to really be something special, we as cooks must give it what I like to call “soul.” Though not to be confused with soul food, the “soul” of food comes from depth of flavor and the ability to give a satisfied feeling to the person eating it. I think this intertwines with the ideals of the art world in general to create something that challenges but also satisfies the viewer’s inner self.
Tell us about the place of visual art at FMK, both on the walls and as performance.
ALONSO: At Fulton Market Kitchen, our hope is to create an entertainment experience that provides guests with the opportunity to simultaneously indulge their passions for dining, drinking and art. To that end, every week, a different artist transforms our lounge space into their personal studio, allowing guests to observe, engage and draw inspiration from their creative process, all while enjoying dinner and cocktails. From conception, we wanted FMK to be a portal of collective creativity, by integrating various artistic styles and performance art with delicious cuisine and imaginative cocktails, all to create a new experience for Chicago’s evolving culture.
How do you go about selecting artists to paint at FMK?
ALONSO: We strive to be a highly artist-friendly and collaborative channel for Chicago’s vibrant local arts community. To select artists for the residency program, to exhibit or to purchase art for our permanent collection, the creative team meets weekly. We review submissions from local artists and talk about the artists whose work we admire and who we would love to work with.
What is the nature of the relationship between the artists who create at FMK and the restaurant? For instance, if the artist sells a work, what percentage of the sale does the artist receive?
ALONSO: One-hundred percent of the sale goes to the artist. Since we opened, we have worked with over seventy different artists at FMK. It is incredibly gratifying when guests purchase the artwork on exhibit at FMK or when we introduce artists to collectors and designers.
I would add that for me personally, one of the “success stories” as relates to art at FMK is that, in the same way that I was inspired by the 1980s New York City art scene and the Wynwood Walls in Miami in creating FMK, I feel that we have played a small role in advancing art appreciation in Chicago and in making street art and murals a key interior element in restaurant and bar design across the city.
What do you see as the similarities between artist and chef?
CURREN: My feeling is that art and cooking come from the same place, the heart and the soul of the person creating it. We put a lot of effort into what we consider our craft. I personally don’t look at food as art per se, but rather as craft that needs someone who can breathe life into it. I think a lot of the artists have this same core belief: they want to take what is in their minds and their hearts and present it for the world to consider and enjoy. We do the same with our menus. Ultimately we take ideas and try to bring them to fruition for the enjoyment of our guests.