The relationship between a chef and his or her tools in the kitchen is something that is often misunderstood by the dining public. Now, those tools of the craft will be on display at an exhibit in San Francisco’s Mission District.
A Dux Art collaborative project, produced by Eddie Lau and photographed by Meigan Canfield and Ellis Au, Beneath The Sheaths is holding an opening and reception Friday night (February 1) at 18 Reasons from 5:00-8:00 p.m. We spoke with Lau about the project.
Is there a particular story behind the exhibit?
In the kitchens, there exists a knife culture among cooks. We often compare, talk and envy different tools and knives from other cooks or chefs. And, for those that believe in the perfect tool for the perfect moment, we continually develop new love affairs with different tools that we desire.
Almost 3 years ago, I purchased a new Ittosai yanagiba knife from Japan and fell in love with the texture and style of it. In my eyes, it was the missing link in my set from a functional and aesthetic point of view. Having what I felt was a perfect set of complementary knives, I felt an urge to have that point in time photographed.
In that moment, I realized how much my tools mirrored a distinctive personality of my own.
I wanted to build on that idea and look into how feasible it would be to have close friend and photographer, Meigan Canfield shoot my knives and possibly the knife sets of other chefs. From there, the idea took off.
How did the producers come about in picking the particular chefs to be featured?
The restaurant industry is large, but the community of chefs, cooks and staff is surprisingly small and interwoven. Most of the chefs here are my friends and in many instances, respected peers that I might typically see on a weekly basis in the farmer’s markets. We did make a conscious decision to lend balance between the types of chefs featured: be it butchers or pastry chefs.
Do you think people really understand the unique relationship chefs have with their tools?
I think most people do not understand the depth of the relationship some chefs have with their tools simply because there is such a discrepancy between the common household and the commercial kitchen. I think most people can understand the concept and importance for having the right tool, but when you do not approach the unique challenges of a restaurant kitchen on a day to day basis, you wouldn’t understand the deep connections and purpose some of these tools represent. I think the variation between each set of tools speaks volumes for how personal these tools are to the chefs and I hope the artwork gives them an in depth look at some of the reasons and relationships chefs have with their tools.
Lau started cooking in San Francisco 6-7 years ago and became interested and intrigued by not only the cooking done in restaurants, but also the study of food, food ethics, dining etiquette and cooking theory. So a few years ago, he developed Dux, a not-for-profit art program devoted to doing different events and projects, focusing on developing conversations and sharing ideas about food.
18 Reasons curators Casey Carroll and Nicole Markoff also helped on the project, which features chefs Melissa Perello (Frances), Richie Nakano (Hapa Ramen), Robbie Lewis (Bon Appetit/Oracle), Gabriel Mitchell (MAISON MITCHELL), Ryan Farr (4505 Meats), Eddie Lau (Dux), Ravi Kapur (Liholiho Yacht Club), Bill Corbett (Absinthe Group) and Laurence Jossel (Nopa).
The exhibit will be on display at 18 Reasons (3674 18th Street, San Francisco) through March 31.