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Scenes from an exhibition: Check out Chef Ross Warhol's edible art

As I wrote in yesterday's Buffalo News, Ross Warhol, chef at the Athenaeum Hotel at Chautauqua Institution, has been invited to cook at the James Beard House in Manhattan. The Athenaeum Hotel has been surprising Chautauquans with Warhol's cuisine, and is investing in the young chef's first foray into Manhattan to win him wider exposure.

He'll showcase Western New York ingredients, using modern techniques but keeping the molecular gastronomy experiments to a minimum. (The event officially sold out Monday, Warhol said.)

The Beard invitation came before Warhol offered his Praxis series at the Athenaeum Hotel this summer. The three dinners featured Warhol crafting dishes along a theme. First Warhol reinvented an original 1881 hotel menu; then he refined community potluck dishes.

The third Praxis dinner, Aug. 16, saw Warhol offering dishes inspired by schools of art: pointillism, pop, cubism and surrealism.

I went on my own time, as a guest of the hotel. This isn't a restaurant review, but an appreciation, a chance to share some photos and impressions. Take them with as much salt as you deem appropriate.

The first course at Praxis: Painted was an amuse bouche inspired by pointillism.

It was a dab of chickpea stew with drops of hummus, tamarind and what might have been a turmeric mayonnaise. It was like a mouthful of chaat without the crunch:

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A behind-the-scenes photo from the Athenaeum makes the point better:

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First course was inspired by pop art, citing Eduardo Paolozzi and Andy Warhol, no relation:

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Garlic custard four ways, clockwise from upper left: tomato, roasted red pepper, "kaleidoscope" oil (chile and chive), apricot. The red pepper "marmalade" delivered a vibrant blast of pimenton flavor.

Here's a close-up of the kaleidoscope effect:

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The orangey slick was seriously spicy chile oil, the green a grassy chive oil.

Cubism was next.

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Raw escolar and tuna, preserved lemon pudding (yellow dots), maki sauce (brown) and cucumber cubes.

Less square on the plate than Warhol had planned, I'm sure. Good sushi dish otherwise. Another view:

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For surrealism, inspired by Picasso and Dali, Warhol offered a spice-rubbed chicken dish, from local Green Heron Growers, in cauliflower cream, topped with a truffled potato croquette.

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It was the only dish of the night I didn't "get." Still rivetingly delicious, though. I chased the remainders of the spiced cauliflower cream. The perfectly fried yet fluffy croquette showed a deft touch.

There was a powerfully fragrant little scoop of grapefruit sorbet as intermezzo.

Abstract impressionism (see: Jackson Pollack, Kandinsky) brought us a plate that looked like an accident.

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The frozen moment was made of deeply satisfying food. Rich, naturally sweet short ribs were spoon-tender, stretched out over earthy beets and turnips tuned up with tangy, herbal chimichurri. The pink egg oozed golden yolk.

Dessert was a surprise, our server said. She cleared the table and laid down a vinyl table cloth.

A woman approached with a cart and told us she'd be our dessert artist. She started painting the table with squeezebottles of strawberry and caramel sauces, laid out discs of almond custard and sprinkled swaths of curry walnut crumble.

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Then a weird meteorite arrived and was placed in the center.

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It was chocolate mousse, frozen in nitrogen. The one we got had taken too long to arrive from the kitchen, and wasn't enveloped in its own cloud of vapor, like those we saw go to other tables. 

Warhol with mom steaming dessert

Here's a picture of the presentation at another table, with Warhol holding a smoking mousse meteorite and his mother Vicky Warhol doing the edible art.

We scraped the tablecloth with our spoons and murmured in wonder. Even without all the stage presence it was designed to have, it was a memorable dessert.

To enjoy Warhol's work in Chautauqua, you have to do more than pay a dinner tab. The hotel is only open in the summer, and during the season, you will usually have to pay the Chautauqua Institution's parking fee, gate fee, and wait for a shuttle bus or take a walk down the hill.

So far, having sold out his first Praxis series, Warhol has found enough fans. Warhol said he's not sure yet what plans there might be for Praxis in the hotel's 2013 season.

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Food and Drink
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