Katy Wilson, public programs intern at the Blanton Museum of Art and a UT art education graduate student, organized Art on Tap: Craft Beer and Local Fare, an event at The Blanton this spring that features tours of our American Scenery and Go West! exhibitions, followed by food and beer tastings selected from regions represented in the shows. Katy interviewed sommelier Sam Hovland and chef Mat Clouser, The Blanton’s partners for the event. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A. (The full interview appears on the Blanton Blog.)
During Art on Tap, guests will get to try different beers selected because of ties to the art in Go West! and American Scenery, two exhibitions currently on view at The Blanton. Can you tell us how you selected the art works and corresponding beers for the event?
Sam Hovland: Some of the art choices are based on places where Mat and I had spent time, and some are regionally selected so that our progression made sense. We usually chose the beers first and then paired the food afterwards. We knew that we wanted to do the food as three courses, each delivered as a pairing with two beers, so we had to keep that in mind as we narrowed down the art, beer, and food choices.
Mat, you are creating food pairings to complement the beers and art works in the exhibitions. Where do you find inspiration when devising new dishes?
Mat Clouser: Inspiration can and does come from anything. I am always trying to leave myself open to any new ideas or styles. I read about food quite a bit, which tends to inspire my thoughts while I am out walking. As Nietzsche once said, “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Mine frequently come this way, with a great amount of clarity to them, as well. I think just being in the vastness of space, rather than the typical confines of a kitchen matters. Beyond that, my predominant inspiration tends to be based on seasonality and availability. Nature supplies us with some pretty amazing stuff; I wouldn’t say I try to stay out of its way, but more that I try to accent its great ingredients with my own idiosyncrasies. I do try to spend a great deal of time determining how sensible the food can be: whether the ingredients make sense together, if they might be traveling too far to rationalize their usage, given their toll on our and their own environments. I have to sit on ideas for a while sometimes, some disappear from memory, but the persistent ones almost always become fabulous. I imagine one might call that pragmatic gastronomy, though I think for many chefs it is the one true path to good food. Lastly, I have been meditating on the Dada and Surrealist movements of late: the concepts of unique juxtapositions in food, the playfulness of including some non sequitur into a dish or meal, rule breaking, and in particular the idea of cooking via psychic automatism.
When can we expect your new restaurant, Swift’s Attic, to open its doors? Will the food served during Art on Tap provide a sneak peak of your new menu?
MC: Swift’s Attic will be opening sometime after SXSW, as we want to invite people to come and visit us at a less hectic and congested time and place. We’ll do it when it’s safe to go back downtown, so to speak. The food for Art on Tap is a mixture of things that will be on our menu, albeit with custom tweaks to fit the presentation, and some things that we think compliment the beers, paintings and locales. Six items in total, one paired with each beer, ranging in texture, flavor, and inspiration. Most will be vegetarian, while I am not a vegetarian; I feel that they end up suffering too often when eating out. My, and Swift’s Attic, intent is for there to be many options, for all palates, that are quite delicious on their own, meaty or not. That being said, I am somewhat of a Pork Spiritualist, so do be on the look out for that!