Student Will Brown installing an exhibit of his paintings and sketches at the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University’s Providence Campus.
The first thing you see when you walk into “From Paper to Plate,” a current exhibit at JWU Providence’s Culinary Arts Museum, is a smiling pig wearing a jaunty chef’s hat.
That pig is a mascot of sorts for artist — and JWU Providence culinary arts student — Will Brown '17, who uses art to document, as well as inspire, new ideas.
Art and food are inseparable for Brown, who grew up in Dallas, Texas, with a pastry chef mom (a JWU alumna) and artist relatives (his grandmother is a watercolorist; his aunt works in letterpress).
The quietly intense Brown considers the kitchen his studio — both as a place for creating new dishes (edible art), and for documenting culinary creativity through sketches, paintings and detailed concept drawings.
Top: All about charcuterie (left) and a concept drawing for a dessert (right). Bottom: Drawings in progress.
A true multi-tasker, Brown takes a notebook with him everywhere. “I may get inspired at lunch, or in class, or just sitting with a cup of coffee,” he explains.
Each blank page is a new opportunity to brainstorm a new dish, sketch an imaginary restaurant concept or detail out what he’s learning in the classroom. Although his notes are sometimes functional (how to break down a whole animal, for example), each page is his way of remembering and sparking new ideas. Inspiration can come from anywhere, says Brown:
“I tweak and deconstruct dishes into components — anything can be turned into an idea of product. I may take some food — or part of an advertisement — and re-envision it into a new dish. Whether or not the finished product makes sense or works is not my goal. It is more to simply have an idea that can be refined through trial and error, and revised until perfect.”
Top: Smoked, honey-glazed carrots with celery-root puree (top) and an elegant octopus (bottom).
Brown and his brother Bennett, a JWU Providence food service management student, grew up helping their mom in her pastry shop. Taking culinary classes was a given for the high school student — but he also gravitated towards art classes, sketching everywhere he could.
In between volunteering for catering events in Dallas or assisting at World Master Chefs Society events, Brown sketched from his favorite “weird cartoons” (Ren & Stimpy; Dexter’s Laboratory), dreamed up tattoo ideas inspired by master rock poster artist Frank Kozik, and even painted a guitar for a local charity auction.
Fast-forward to JWU, where drawing is clearly a pathway to unlocking — and refining — Brown’s best culinary ideas.
It’s also his way of networking — like documenting a visit from the ChefSteps team when they were on campus to demonstrate modernist techniques. (These techniques feature heavily in many of Brown’s conceptual dishes, like a design for a “gâteau au printemps” centered around a blood-orange sponge cake with compressed watermelon, frozen pomegranate and goat milk spheres, and a honeydew-and-cantaloupe melon tuile.)
What’s next? Brown has added some intense jobs to his resume, including an internship at the Park City Club in Dallas, and a summer spent at Jamestown, RI’s award-winning Fish, where he met and cooked for Jacques Pepin. He already has his sights set on his next internship — appropriately enough, it’s at the Museum of Modern Art’s restaurant, The Modern.
Will (second from left) with master chef Jacques Pépin (center) at Fish in Jamestown, RI. Bottom: Blood orange sponge cake with compressed watermelon and pistachio dust. All artwork by Will Brown.