Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously listed Shannon Overmiller as an instructor at L’Academie de Cuisine. Overmiller is the culinary director at Society Fair.
They’re both creative, and they both work with their hands. They’re subject to public opinion and can endure harsh reviews. And both female artists and chefs are trying to make it in a male-dominated field. So when Strathmore curator Harriet Lesser brought local notables in the two fields together for the show “Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen,” well, “The connections seemed to flow,” Lesser said.
Lesser and University of Maryland hospitality instructor Susan Callahan matched each chef with an artist, who painted, sculpted or otherwise crafted a portrait — like an artistic blind date.
The exhibition also features vintage kitchen items, from a wine press to an antique toaster. As remnants of an era when women were home cooks and chefs were men, they’re a poignant juxtaposition next to the images of strong female chefs and businesswomen.
“What you see in all of these is a love of what women are doing,” said Susan Delbert, the first female executive chef of the National Press Club. “There’s a great commitment to our craft.”
“Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen”: Through Nov. 8. Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. 301-581-5100. www.strathmore.org. Free.
Artist: Danni Dawson
Chef: Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s “The Chew”
More than 20 years ago, Hall was a figure model for Dawson’s classes at the Art League in Alexandria. When they reunited for this portrait — which Dawson painted as a paper doll, complete with detachable magnetic outfits — it was just like old times. “It was fun. She was just Carla, the way she used to be,” Dawson said. But this time there was one difference.
Hall: “This time I had my clothes on. ... Danni did such a fantastic job of capturing how versatile my style is. She also was able to wonderfully capture the fact that I try not to take myself too seriously.”
Artist: Catherine Kleeman
Chef: Susan Delbert, executive chef, the Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club
“I don’t do realism,” Kleeman said. A fiber artist, she asked for one of Delbert’s old chef coats, which she dyed and quilted. She screen-printed Delbert’s favorite menus on cloth gloves, which she affixed to an apron — a piece that has become a symbol for the entire show.
Delbert: “I liked the rather impersonal nature of the apron. The Press Club isn’t about me — it’s a historical place. And I’m all about my menus.”
Artist: Micheline Klagsbrun
Chef: Ruth Gresser, chef-owner, Pizzeria Paradiso, Veloce
Klagsbrun painted Gresser’s hands holding the blossom of a crape myrtle, the chef’s favorite tree. “My painting is not about the surface of things,” she said. “I wanted to express something more about her as a person. She’s such a rich, generous soul.”
Gresser: “Food is so tactile. To be able to get your hands to do with food what you want them to do is really crucial.”
Artist: Veronica Szalus
Chef: Shannon Overmiller, culinary director at Society Fair.
Two topics that ignite Overmiller’s passion are aquaculture and sustainability. Szalus’s portrait, installed outside the Strathmore Mansion, tries to capture the flow of air and water in a marsh. The materials are also a reference to crab traps. “There’s been an ebb and a flow to Shannon’s life as well,” Szalus said.
Overmiller: “It’s a very bold statement she made with her art. She did something so different than everyone else. And my food, I want it to be very bold, very hearty and very strong flavors.”
Artist: Kaltoum Maroufi-Colle
Chef: Nora Pouillon, chef-owner, Restaurant Nora
Maroufi-Colle placed Pouillon and a glass of wine within an intricate trompe l’oeil frame. “She has nostalgia in her eyes,” the artist said. “At the same time, she’s extremely focused.”
Pouillon: “I think she glamorized me a little bit.” She hopes the show will call more attention to the accomplishments of women in the field. “It shows that female chefs are artists, too, and are very creative,” she said.