The chef-turned-painter (whom you may recognize from his stint on Top Chef) walks us through a typical day of blending food and art in Alabama.
I try to get myself ready before the house wakes up—you know, do my old man stretches and pushups to stay fit. Then, a morning sketch. I usually sketch more, but I had to go to the market because I’m doing a bunch of private dinners this week. I do probably five a month now. I walked away from the kitchen about eight months ago, but I’m still heavily involved in the culinary arts—meaning I’m always doing stuff with food. I’ve found you can take techniques from the chef world and pull them into the painting studio and do so much more. I can sous-vide a sweet potato to where I want it to be, then dehydrate it, pulse it up, add walnut oil, and strain it—and then I have my own sweet potato oil paint.
I usually sit at this graffiti writer’s bench in Irondale to sketch, see graffiti, smoke weed, and talk and trade food and sketches with hobos when they jump off the train. It’s been a huge thing for graffiti artists in Irondale—where Fannie Flagg’s book Fried Green Tomatoes is from, so Alabama thick and through—since back to around the ‘60s. This was the first time I ever read the plaque about a lynching that they put up within the past six months. I’m doing a lot of work on the Alabama Black Belt and traces of the heritage, and a lot of that is lynching spots. But I’m not focused on old death—I don’t want to be reminded of that shit. I’m more focused on deaths that happen these days, like drive-by shootings. A lot of times when people see Black art, they associate it with sadness. So you might think this is sad, but really I’m just out here smoking weed and sketching [laughs].
I think I was listening to Kodak Black when I made this sketch at the bench, which is basically a trap rapper being hung by diamonds and gold chains. You can always get deep and articulately speak about what that sketch actually means, but this was just my first reaction to that moment in time. It was quiet. This old white lady was opening up the restaurant behind me—an amazing restaurant called the Irondale Cafe, where the original Fried Green Tomatoes recipe came from—and turned on some blues music really, really loud. It was just me, her, the music, and the train. This sketch was kind of an instant reaction to what that plaque means and how it slightly doesn’t disturb me because I’m focused on a more contemporary moment of what it means to be Black and my perception of what a lynching would be. I was born in ’78, so I only know what I saw in the books and TV. And I’m learning more horror stories the more I live in Alabama. There’s some fucked up shit in this state.
I go to June Coffee to chat it up with Birmingham’s industry folks, and also to get a lot of my art supplies. I paint with a lot of burlap, so I get all my burlap bags here and make green pigments out of the African beans by soaking them, straining them, dehydrating them, and then mixing in walnut oil and maybe a bit of burnt sienna pigment.
I’m making sweet potato bizkits for the dinner party, so I went shopping to get produce at this great farmers’ market in Bessemer. I always buy these sweet potatoes, which come from Union Town, Alabama and are one of the oldest strains. They’re very sweet and fluffier than most. I paint with them, and I use them to make bizkits with Old Bay spice that I’m famous for. My friend calls them Rozzie’s Bizzies.
More shopping, at Hometown Market. I’m doing a six-course tasting menu with plums three different ways: a sauce plum, a plum tiramisu, and a spicy Chinese dumpling with plum and pork. The sweet potato bizkits will go with a cold crab salad that has lemongrass, hot scotch bonnet peppers, and clarified butter, kind of set up as a one-bite. Now that I don’t cook professionally, when I do cook these events, I’m just going hard. I do all the stuff I learned in New York and major cities so much better. I’m painting more, so I have a clearer head and I’m freer.
I go to Taco Morro Loco’s food truck at least twice a week. They know my order: two pastor, one chorizo. You’ve gotta park kind of awkwardly and walk through two gas stations to get to it, but it’s the best in the city. They buy seasonal veg, make their own tortillas, and make agua fresca fresh from seasonal produce—they had plum, watermelon, and lime the other day.
I had originally planned to go to a buddy’s studio and smoke weed. Instead, I was at Home Depot. I got word that I needed to pack eight paintings to be shipped to Aspen overnight for the Intersect art fair. Shipping works is the scariest thing, like a Hail Mary every time. I buy a plastic drop cloth and tape and wrap it 18 times so it’s almost cushioned, then I build my own boxes. I make them cute with stencils and shit. And then I pray to god that one, I have enough money to ship them, and two, that nothing happens.
After Home Depot, I picked up the kids. By six it’s usually go-time for dinner, and I normally get really involved and make sure they eat healthy and clean. But interesting, because I’m a dork at plating and all that shit. I didn’t feel like getting too involved this time, so I just made some pancakes and everyone was happy.
I ended the night finishing up some paintings that needed to be shipped—which means completely painting over them and starting over. Day of 8 [below] has a roasted red pepper pigment that I mixed with grapeseed oil, but most of them are pastel and oil paint.