Women Chefs dc
Susan Wallace realized by Jennifer Barlow

Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen

Strathmore is celebrating the artistry of cooking this fall, unveiling 21 original portraits of renowned regional and local female chefs created by 22 visual artists. The Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen exhibit pairs artists with chefs, giving the artists the opportunity to explore different mediums and portray each chef through their own creative interpretation of their culinary talents. Strathmore visitors can check out the free exhibit in the First Floor Galleries of the Gudelsky Gallery Suite in the Mansion at Strathmore now through November 8. On Tap caught up with three artist-chef pairs to get a sneak peek of what to expect at this unique celebration of food and art.

Nora Pouillon, Restaurant Nora 

Portrayed by Kaltoum A. Maroufi

When Chef Nora Pouillon first met artist Kaltoum Maroufi at a gathering for those selected for the Women Chefs exhibit, they felt a strong connection because of their European descent – Pouillon is Austrian and French, and Maroufi is French and Moroccan. Pouillon, who opened Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle more than 35 years ago and has since been heralded as a pioneer in organic and farm-to-table cuisine, invited Maroufi to have dinner at her restaurant to help her get a sense of her workspace and food. The next steps in Maroufi’s creative process included a visit to Pouillon’s home and a photo shoot in her restaurant.

“She took a series of photographs of me in different positions and insisted that my hands [be] visible, since they are the tools of my trade,” Pouillon says.

The chef describes “Nora’s Portrait” as an accurate portrayal of who she is now, since she’s rarely active in the kitchen anymore. Now, Pouillon is “the creator, the educator, and the manager of my team – and of course, the representative of my passion.”

Maroufi says her main focus in creating the oil on canvas painting was to meld Pouillon’s old world style and her new age fusion cuisine with the artist’s classical painting style for a formal portrait with trompe l’oeil – or “fool the eye” – effects, a specialty that she has developed over the past 30 years.

“I wanted it to be a piece that would be at home in the milieu of Restaurant Nora,” Maroufi says.

Ruth Gresser, Pizza Paradiso & Veloce 

Portrayed by Micheline Klagsbrun

Chef Ruth Gresser, founder of Pizza Paradiso (with three locations in Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Old Town) and new quick-service eatery Veloce at 1828 L St. NW, says Women Chefs challenges everyone to see beyond the stereotypical image of chefs as “young, bearded, and tattooed” – and male – and embrace the alternative images of who these female culinary artists are.

Gresser invited artist Micheline Klagsburn to her home nestled in the woods where she prepared what Klagsburn describes as “an exquisite lunch, working with a palette of flavors and textures to create a multi-layered composition” that inspired the artist to do the same with her portrait.

“I let all the ingredients – trees, colors, our shared Jewish heritage, her generosity, the delicious meal, my photos of her hands – stew around in my brain for a few weeks, [and] then the painting emerged,” Klagsburn says.

“Offering (A portrait of Ruth)” was a truly unique experience for the artist, whose work is about sometimes mythological, often abstract transformations based on organic forms, layers, colors, and textures. Klagsburn poured and manipulated ink on canvas and then used layers of oil paint to depict the cultural and spiritual significance of offering and sharing a meal, using the tree of life, the cup of wine, which is central to Jewish tradition, and Gresser’s hands, “the instruments of her skill,” to capture the chef’s spirit both professionally and personally.

Gresser says the painting is amazingly beautiful, and Klagsburn “captured elements of who I am and who I am as a chef and transformed them into a very successful work of art.”

Susan Wallace, Black Restaurant Group

Portrayed by Jennifer Kahn Barlow

Many of oil painter Jennifer Kahn Barlow’s works to date have revolved around delectable desserts, so the artist says she could not pass up the opportunity to learn more about Pastry Chef Susan Wallace’s background and inspiration for creating mouth-watering pastries.

“Being able to expand my sweets painting series by adding personal meaning from Chef Susan’s culinary journey gave me the opportunity to add an extra dimension to my own work,” Barlow says.

She describes her oil on canvas piece, “Childhood Dream Realized,” as a literal piece in the “painterly realistic style.” And at the heart of the painting are Chef Wallace’s masterpieces – her desserts.

Chef Wallace, the Corporate Executive Pastry Chef for Black Restaurant Group (Republic, BlackSalt, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace/Black Jack, and Black’s Bar and Kitchen), says she felt an immediate connection with Barlow because the artist grew up in the same town in Massachusetts where the chef’s father spent his childhood.

The theme of childhood resonated with Barlow, who added some personal touches to the painting including Wallace’s mother’s cookbooks and her Easy Bake Oven “as a reminder of her roots.” Wallace’s mother taught her how to bake, and she still uses many of her recipes but adds a modern twist to them – including her famous nut brittle.

“Susan’s drive, determination, passion, and pride for the amazingly delicious result is truly inspiring,” Barlow says. “This exhibit it a great way to learn more about not only the restaurants amongst the Washington, DC food scene but the genius chefs behind them. Moreover, [to] pay homage to the talented women that have taken over the traditional men’s restaurant kitchen.”

The Mansion at Strathmore: 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org