Omnivore - Esquire's John Mariani says cooking isn't art

Esquire's food editor thinks too literally about what qualifies as art


Tuesday, on Esquire's Eat Like A Man (whatever that means) food blog, Esquire food scribe John Mariani published the article "Is Cooking Ever An Art?", to which my arts editor brain offered the knee-jerk response, "Well, sure."

Mariani, on the other hand, says No. Effing. Way:
Surely, using tweezers to place micro-greens just so on top of layers of foie gras and puff pastry does not constitute art at any level. There is a craft to making good pizza or a perfect roast chicken, but it is not an art form. Extravagance in cuisine, whether it's the mounting of a 200-course dinner at Versailles or a duck stuffed into a turkey, is mere cunning artifice, to be applauded for what it is: fun, enticing, beautiful, though not exactly da Vinci.


The impetus for Mariani's piece was the arrival "with a considerable thud on his desk" of photographer Jeff Scott and chef Blake Beshore's Notes from a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession, a 932-page photo-driven coffee table opus on the aesthetic value of the stuff we eat. Arguing against the idea of cooking as art, Mariani first turns to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for its definition of art. I'm tempted here to stop the discussion to say that anyone who feels compelled to turn to a dictionary definition of art in order to debate the artistic merits of something is, well, maybe not the best person to debate the artistic merits of anything.

Now, that's not to say you have to be special or highly educated or anything else along those lines to understand the value of art and to see it in, perhaps, unexpected places. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, the main problems with Mariani's argument are that it is pompous, archaic, and entirely too literal.