The Art of Food

“I believe that anything done well is art, and great food is like great art but without the evidence,” Damien Hirst, English artist.

Trends are rarely new. As artwork blooms on the walls of Gold Coast restaurants, it’s worth remembering that decorating restaurants is not a new phenomenon. The rubble of Pompeii reveals snack bar walls embellished with paintings of the gods Mercury and Bacchus. Centuries later, impoverished hungry artists, such as Picasso and Miró, would offer their paintings in payment for a meal at Colombo d’Or in Provence.

The relationship between art and food has been a constant throughout history. It makes sense. Even though eating is essential for survival, dining is often a time when we stop to enjoy nourishment and social interaction, our senses piqued for stimulation. Although food is an art in itself involving the visual, olfactory, taste and tactile senses, the restaurant’s décor and art play a part in enhancing the dining experience.

Some of the Gold Coast’s most interesting restaurants are concept-driven, using art to tell their story. Rather than being a feature which stands alone, their art complements the work of the chef much like the interplay of text and illustration in a picture book. It’s as though the walls and realia carry on from the art on the plate, melded together in the diner’s imagination. We speak to several of the artists whose work forms part of the story of Gold Coast food:

Can Tho – 5/465 Oxley Drive, Runaway Bay Ph: 07 5529 0098

With the help of graphic artists Frank and Mimi, the walls and branding of Can Tho Restaurant plunge us into a stylised rendition of the family’s life story. The lush vegetation of their homeland in the Mekong Delta (the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia), is overlooked by an imposing image of Emperor Quang Trung (one of Vietnam’s most powerful and popular leaders). The long voyage across the sea is documented by family photos and a stamp commemorating their landing on co-owner Vien’s third birthday: ‘Australia 16 – 04 1981 Viet-Nam’. So, we are drawn into their story.

“As with all our artworks, the colours reflect the palette of the interior, and the content celebrates the stories of the owners and their brand. For owner Tara, her Mum is her greatest hero, as she laid a strong foundation for her and her partner Vien to follow their creative dreams. The artwork features a tiger as the hero image – quite fortuitous as we later found out her Mum was born in year of the tiger. The imagery surrounding is a combination of vintage palm trees referencing old black and white photographs of the fields during the Vietnam war, layered with actual archival imagery from their family. The three monks that sit proudly at the top of the artwork symbolise happiness, prosperity and longevity and mirror statues that feature in their bar. Throughout the restaurant, we’ve brought their family’s journey to life through artwork and invited customers to form a personal relationship with the Can Tho story.”Frank & Mimi, artists

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Balter Brewing – 14 Traders Way, Currumbin Ph: 07 5525 6916

Balter, means “(v.)…to dance artlessly without particular skill or grace, but usually with enjoyment”

Set in the industrial area of Currumbin Waters, Balter Brewery is an awe-inspiring operation; a vast industrial shed full of shining tanks as far as the eye can see. Around us, hand-faced brick walls and the expansive 12-tap tasting area are lit by a huge luminous mural by Brisbane-based artists Frank & Mimi. Somehow this art reminds us that for all of its industrial vibe, this is also a place of art.

“When we were approached by Balter to create an artwork at their Currumbin brewery, we all agreed that we couldn’t do anything less that paint something that would become iconic for the Balter brand. Creative Director Stirling Howland provided us with three requirements in our brief – Frank & Mimi were to create a postcard-style image featuring the words “Welcome to Balter”, accompanied by the brand’s message “Hot City, Cold Beer” and their product tagline “With Enjoyment”. We pitched our vision to create something that reflects the classic Australian laid-back lifestyle, in honour of the four surfing legends that have a hand in the project.

In classic Frank & Mimi style, we pulled all of these elements together and created an artwork that appears as if it’s celebrating somewhere tropical and exotic, but has roots in the Gold Coast’s very own Currumbin.” – Frank & Mimi, artists

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Etsu Izakaya – 2440 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach Ph: 07 5526 0944

Like the brown paper wrapped package, Etsu Izakaya is a hidden treasure. A red lantern outside the fortress-like wooden door is an auspicious symbol of good luck. ‘Come inside,’ it beckons, and so we do.

We push through the doorway to find ourselves enveloped in the barrel of Hokusai’s Great Wave, a rogue ocean ‘okinami’ which runs along the restaurant. It’s a tunnel-like cavern traversed by a long bar, with a giant bonsai flanking its side wall as the restaurant opens up, story-like, into a satirical comic book mural by local artist Mark Wilson.

“I think the murals in Etsu are in a way an artistic representation of Mitch and Nerissa’s contemporary take on Japanese dishes; a fusion between traditional and modern.  The harmonious converging of well-known Japanese elements and characters was also done in such a way to help convey the feeling of dining within the crowded and lively streets of Japan.  Although the practical side was challenging, the aim was to create a mood that would enhance the diner’s overall experience and hopefully it’s doing just that!” – Mark Wilson, artist

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Jimmy Wah’s – 1724 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads Ph: 07 5659 1180

“Good morning, Vietnam!”

Jimmy Wah’s brings a huge smile to our face. Not only is it a sideways nod to the local GI bar in the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam, but we can’t help but smile back at the beaming exuberance of Jimmy Wah, a two-metre high mural by local artist Mark Wilson.

“Now you say hi to me then you smile!” says Jimmy, his infectious good humour brightening the room despite the turmoil outside in the streets of Saigon. War raged both outside and inside in the ‘70s, an unholy mix of freedom and rebellion fuelled by a war many believed we should not be a part of. For respite, like the GIs of Saigon, Jimmy Wah’s could very easily become ‘…the place where we like to hang out.”

“Having named their restaurant after the famous Vietnamese character from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, Jimmy Wah, owners Jake and Shelly really wanted a large portrait as a stand-alone feature.  A photorealism style with minimal colour was decided upon to reflect the simple and elegant look of the restaurant.  Hopefully Jimmy Wah’s bright smile brings a bit of vibrancy and cheerfulness to everyone’s dining experience!  That was the ultimate goal in the end.”Mark Wilson, artist

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Caffeine Kings – 1920 Gold Coast Highway, Miami Ph: 0412 834 130

When Jess and James Wren moved to the Gold Coast, they found little ‘Melbourne-style’ coffee, hence the idea of starting a laneway espresso bar on the coast serving the coffee they love.

Enter Caffeine Kings, the former laundromat transformed into one of the funkiest fit outs in town. From the street, you’ll have to look hard to find Caffeine Kings. Inside, what is otherwise a dark-walled subway-like tunnel dotted with 44-gallon drum tables and a walled servery is lifted by an amazing wall of graffiti by artist John Kaye. As bold as the café’s dark full-bodied coffee, Kaye’s artwork completely transforms the space.

“We brought John Kaye in to produce a feature wall to replicate the art soaked walls of Melbourne Laneways. We had seen a lot of John Kaye’s work so the only brief we gave him was to use lots of colour to make it pop from the otherwise black walls. You’ll notice the signature characters in all of John Kaye’s artwork.”Jess Wren, co-owner of Caffeine Kings.

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Box Coffee Co – Melia Court, Southport

A 40ft. shipping container makes a terrific little espresso bar, but there was only one problem: captivating the attention of passers-by on a busy road. 40/40 Creative provided the solution by covering the container in the vibrant street art of John Kaye. It’s incentive enough for patrons to stop and relax on their journey to work, buying their coffee from the open side of an art installation.

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Cambus Wallace – 4/2237 Gold Coast Hwy, Mermaid Beach Ph: 5575 3420

Along one wall of the Cambus Wallace, Dylan Quirk’s moody mural of a frigate at war with a stormy sea reminds us that the sea is a cruel mistress indeed. After she’d taken her toll on the Cambus Wallace, explosives from the wrecked ship were piled together and detonated. Storm and tides compounded their damage eroding the narrow spit of land and changing the topography of our coastline forever.

“The mural relates directly to the story of the Cambus Wallace which went down in tumultuous seas,” says the restaurant’s co-owner Dave Ferry. “It is supposed to be a representation of that, albeit with artistic license. I love the movement that it brings to the space; I think the venue would be much more static without it. Somehow it just gives the place a little ‘off kilter’ feel and can really make you get lost in the bar and maybe even feel like you’re out at sea!”

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Hideaway Kitchen & Bar – 2657 Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach Ph: 07 5679 0369

Graffiti-covered walls painted by artist Jamie Cutrupi create the perfect backdrop to Vietnamese street food, setting plates against a montage of neon signs, tin roofs and brick. Cosy booth seating gives the intimacy of a clandestine street meet in a chic corner of Hanoi or Phuket, while in another corner there’s a discreet party area which promises a good time to groups of eighteen or so. Realia also plays a part in this story – the bicycle on the roof and the swing at the bar create freshness, a sense of chaos and cosiness as well as an allusion to movement.

“When I was approached by the owners of Hideaway Kitchen they were very loose on their idea for the art work on the restaurant walls. They just said ‘bright and colourful and in a general Asian theme’. The only thing that they really insisted on was that there must be a tuk-tuk on there somewhere. The rest was up to me.

So there was no real plan to the mural. I just started with a couple of main images I wanted to do, then I just filled in the spaces around them to create a bold and colour-filled backdrop for the restaurant. Being an Asian street food inspired menu, the back alley style graffiti mural that is a main feature on the large walls works in well to create the full atmosphere of the venue.” – Jamie Cutrupi, artist

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Regardless of the extent to which it achieves its intended purpose, art brings another dimension to the meal: it not only sets the scene and adds a sense of drama, but it also creates a talking point.

“I think adding these big murals to restaurants enhance the dining experience by just giving the venue much more of a ‘Wow!’ factor when you walk in. Having such large-scale art work definitely adds to a better overall experience in a venue rather than plain walls with small paintings in a frame that go unnoticed half the time. Art work that’s big and in your face is always better. LOL.” Jamie Cutrupi, artist

At the end of the meal our food, the ephemeral artistry of the chef, is gone, except from memory; however the work of our artists remains to light the path of another dining journey.

      
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