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Where an artist and a chef cook up something together

Starving Artist Benefit

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Chicago Artist Coalition, 217 N. Carpenter

Tickets: $75-$175

Info: (312) 491-8888;

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:17AM

Over the past month chef Abraham Conlon (of Fat Rice) and artist Jordan Martins have been bouncing ideas off of each other. The pairing, which resulted in a collage, a collaboration of thoughts and techniques, is one of five featured at Starving Artist, the Chicago Artists Coalition’s annual benefit.

Conlon and Martins have known each other for some time but had never thought of working together until the coalition came calling. What they have found via this unconventional challenge is a similar sensibility in how they create their respective art.

“The big idea behind our collaboration is this collision of various elements,” Conlon says. “We both love to create something new out of something familiar.”

The remaining artist/chef pairs are Cody Hudson and Jared Wentworth (Longman and Eagle), Stacia Yeapanis and Fabio Viviani (Siena Tavern), Theaster Gates and Erick Williams (MK), Sabina Ott and Bill Kim (BellyQ, Urban Belly).

“We want to educate the public about collaboration and how much work it takes to be a creative person,” says coalition Executive Director Carolina Jayaram. “And creative people like to be pushed to create something different, something outside of their normal practice.”

The popular benefit is in its third year. There also will be several edible installations, illuminated cotton candy (sounds intriguing) and a taco battle: Big Star vs. Antique Taco. And, so everyone can go home with a piece of art, 11 artists each donated 10 small pieces for the Wheel of Art ($30 for a spin).

Each artist and chef pairing is presented in a unique way (cheerleaders are involved). The artwork will be auctioned, and the food will be offered in bite-size portions.

During the planning process, Conlon and Martins began to see the connections in their individual trains of thought. They did a lot of talking “to identify the best possible bridge conceptually and then amplified it to make it more overt,” Martins says.

In his work, Martins uses layers of collage embedded in resin. He builds up layers that have depth and separation from one another.

“It’s going to be a very layered piece that has as many visual sources that I can put in there without causing a visual meltdown,” he explains.

Adds Conlon, “Jordan’s work from a distance is beautiful shapes and textures, but up close it’s small images layered to create a work that is larger than the sum of its parts.”

And that concept, Martins says, is similar to his friend’s cooking style: “Abe’s food is similarly collage-based layers. Imagine a massive dish with items piled on, and as you dig into it you discover that every bite has a different sensation that takes you in a different direction.”

And that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago when Conlon played around with a few of the ingredients in his creation, which had yet to be finalized.

In the kitchen at Fat Rice, he melded white fungus mushrooms (“a cool look and texture”), cured green strawberries (“salty, sour, quite bitter”), dried white bait fish (“the bacon bit of the fish world”) and a sweet cream mixture to create a bite-size portion whose jolt of savory and sweet woke up the taste buds.

Conlon, who draws his influences from the Euro-Asian unions of China, India and Southeast Asia’s colonial past, admits he likes a bit of trickery in his menu.

“You’re going to look at it and most likely will think it’s something else,” he said with a grin. “If it looks like cheesecake, you think it will taste like cheesecake. But will it really?”

The question is: Will the audience get it?

“The challenge has always been how to make two separate creations that underscore the concepts we discovered in our conversations,” Martins says. “To hone and fine-tune the little pieces enough so that the viewer and consumer look at or taste it and say ‘Oh yeah, I get it’. Making that direct connection is our goal.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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