Questions and Answers with Brian O’Neill and chef Brian Howard

Please describe the piece you have chosen for inspiration in the collaboration.

The piece is titled “Bowing Palm,” and it was created to embody everything I love in a piece of art. The juxtaposition of textures, like the soft calla-lily leaf and graceful palms against the cold stone, is what I strive for. Then you see the vase and the total fantasy I’ve created inside it. The wonderfully vibrant teal, powerful whites and warm burnt oranges make up my favorite color palette, which gives it an elegant, classic look.

What was your reaction to Chef Howard’s pastry creation when it was unveiled?

I thought it was incredible. He really captured the energy and the essence of the piece as far as the textures in the painting, and he was able to translate those into the pastry design incredibly well. I’m amazed by how the sponge sugar has a texture the way a live plant does and by the way he combined the teal vase with the marble and all of those different elements of hot and cool colors. The asymmetry is wonderful as well. I love the peacock feathers because when I paint these vases, it becomes a world within a world, and they become these fantasy visions within this realistic rendering where your mind can just escape. The way he took just an element of that was really smart and unexpected.

What similarities do you see between your work and that of Chef Howard?

I see definite similarities with the asymmetry. Everything in my paintings is off-centered, yet everything is balanced somehow. And it’s the same thing with his sugar sculpture. You have this great sense of height and this collection of elements at the bottom, yet it works, and it’s beautiful.

Brian Howard

Q. Tell me the philosophy behind your piece inspired by Brian O’Neill’s “Bowing Palm.”

We tried to convey the celebration of ever-changing nature. Brian s painting really gave the feel of the temporariness of life by the way he shows the wilting flowers and curving stems. The wine glass in my piece is celebrating the life of the flower as it starts to grow. Then it moves on to someone’s vase until some pieces fall in their wilted state to the marble below.

How did you go about creating the edible artwork?

I used a mixture of pastillage and pulled sugar with airbrushed edible paints and a powder made out of Nutella to recreate the dirt. The two types of sugar provided a sense of texture that is so prevalent in Brian’s work. The different edible paints I applied gave certain areas a sheen coating and others a dull, matte finish.

How was the overall experience?

It was a lot of fun and really brought me outside my element. For me, every day is a challenge as a chef. You’re constantly trying to evolve yourself and stay humble while at the same time trying to step outside the box and really take your work places. This was my first time doing a sugar work. I told myself to have fun and let myself go. Who knows, I might have picked up another profession! I owe a lot of this to my pastry chef, Martha. She was a big inspiration and really helped me through the process. We were up until 5:30 a.m. working on it, but it was worth it.

When did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

I’ve been cooking since I was 10 years old. The first time I was in a kitchen was when I was 10 years old and working with my father as a short-order cook. I immediately knew it was something I loved. I currently work at CatHouse restaurant in The Luxor Hotel under Kerry Simon. He’s a great guy–fun and laid-back and cares a lot about sustainable products and what comes from the earth. Working with him has opened my eyes to a lot.

What sort of inspiration did you draw from Brian’s piece?

I think the elements and the organic colors and textures were my main inspiration. The marble and bright oranges gave a very traditional, classical feel to the piece. Brian’s work is amazing. I was drawn especially to its asymmetry and the incredible detail he portrayed in the piece.

How would you describe your artistic sensibility and your relationship with visual art?

I’d like to say I have a good eye for things. I have the ability to read more in-depth into something to establish what it truly is and sometimes get a little magical with things.

I love art. I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali, and I love photography. I try to see art in everything I do.