When dining is an art: The Per Se Experience

To continue the culinary art trend I would like to dedicate this next post to the incredible eating experience that is Per Se. Dining culture has always demonstrated a high yield of artistic creations. The art of dining can be seen in everything from the atmosphere to the food and all points in between. Soon we will be publishing a post on the vague line that separates craft art from art art and I can see this post fall into a similar category. The question being that whether or not I can so easily equate the experience at this restaurant with an artistic experience? What it comes down to is how one defines art. Is art a talent driven process and product that exists primarily for its “artistic” qualities? Or can art be so vaguely defined as the result of a choice? I am critical of both questions but find that in my current thinking I fall much more to the latter, art to me can always be found (or rather has the potential to be found) anywhere a creative choice is being made. Thus the choice of design and taste in a restaurant falls squarely in the realm of art.

That being said Per Se’s Website has arguably the best description of the artistically driven culinary experience. The flash animation driven website describes Keller’s belief in pursuing the food creations that make people happy while always challenging their expectations. He commits to the ideas that he can neither create the same experience twice nor the perfect experience. Thus he works toward the unique interaction between the patron and each of the nine courses offered each night. It is in his commitment to the interaction that takes place that makes his operation an artistically driven one. Perhaps one could argue that his endeavor is more artistic than that of the portrait painter. In the latter case, it is the end goal that is the artistic product, but even more so that goal is expected to be concrete, solidified, and timeless (after all for many commissioners of portrait work the entire idea is to immortalize the subject). In the case of the former the art is created through the interaction and is designed to be fleeting, temporary, transitory, one that only exists at that specific moment and with those specific players (the ingredients and the guest).

But on the other hand, can one call a chef and a high class fancy restaurant more artistic than a portrait painter’s studio and clients? Perhaps such a comparison is meaningless, but its ramifications are anything but. To engage in that comparison is to do exactly what I set out to do, and that is to accept Thomas Keller’s operation as an artistic one.

Is it an artistic operation?


For a review of my dining experience at Per Se please visit the new Coffee Straws Blog.

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