Early Renaissance Meets Contemporary Cuisine at the AGO

In every world cuisine, its ingredients, techniques and inspiration reflect the sign of the times. Recently having had the opportunity to discover the correlation of the beauty of the exhibit Revealing the Early Renaissance and the spring menu at FRANK – both currently viewable and tastable, respectively, at the AGO Ontario – it is apparent the similarities of tastes, influence and methodology are deliciously and beautifully intertwined.

Revealing the Early Renaissance has been a 10-year labour of love for Sasha Suda, Coordinating Curator for the exhibit and Assistant Curator of European Art at the AGO. The gallery is very lucky to host such a breathtaking collection of Early Renaissance Art; with many of these pieces never having been displayed outside their country of origin. The Early Renaissance movement that centred in Florence, Italy saw a huge shift in how art was produced, significant changes towards attitudes, and a greater distribution of some of the most important works happening in Europe.

During this time, a growing wealthy merchant class began to accumulate wealth and property and an attitude for the appreciation of the “finer things.” This position created a certain anxiety that created a wanton desire to invest in the church as a means to ensure passage to heaven. In turn, this led to a righteous growth in demand for spiritual art. It also revitalized the art of storytelling, new methods of production and possibility – most significant artists of this period were making more art than many historians could have originally assumed.

During this period, artists worked in workshops as the Master Artist and had a tight roster of people who worked with them in their ‘style’. The Master Artist would work on the key or central focus and have their assistants produce the accompanying pieces or surroundings. The depictions of subjects during this period showed a more human element, the newly wealthy commissioned pieces where they could see themselves in the art, thus making the art more relatable.

For the artists of the time, advancements were made through the innovation of their workshops, converting them purely as artists to true business men, working in a variety of mediums and achieving a more sophisticated level of artistry than originally credited…

Chef de Cuisine Jay Tanuwidjaja, like the Master Artists of the Early Renaissance, leads a tight roster of kitchen talent who help him execute a style all his own. He describes his style as “comfort food taken to another level.” The spring menu at FRANK is directly inspired by the region of Florence and Italy. The dishes are well-rounded, and the flavours heavily influenced with olives, bold punchy flavours of lemon and garlic, and easy-to-spot quality ingredients.

The other night, we tasted an amazing array of these creations, from exciting amuse bouches like wild mushroom truffle tea and wild mushroom and polenta bruschetta, to subdued simplicity in the grilled asparagus and prosciutto salad with lemon garlic vinaigrette. Harkening back to Old Italy was the spaghetti puttanesca with scallop, while the pan seared black cod with tomato basil risotto brought contemporary flare to a classic composition.

The wine pairings recommended by Fabian Ramirez, Food and Beverage Manager, worked brilliantly with each course accentuating Chef’s menu perfectly. Particular nods must go to the spaghetti puttanesca with scallop, which was very bold, rich and cooked to perfection. FRANK’s menu at the AGO is most definitely inspired by the exhibits showcased. It is delicious to know that, like life, food can indeed imitate art.

Revealing the Early Renaissance continues through June 16th, 2013 at the AGO. For more information on this, and other exciting exhibits, visit the AGO’s website.

Nicholas Wong

Nicholas Wong is a Chef de Cuisine whose love for food goes from kitchen to table. The founder of Diner en Blanc Toronto, Nicholas is an avid foodie whose culinary musings he oft docs via social media.