ARTIST INTERVIEW: Lori Stern
Lori Stern is a new artist at the Spring Echo Park Craft Fair. She’ll be serving delicious and artist victuals under the name LORI. We spoke to her about her passion for bringing art into cuisine and her inspirations.
Lori grew up in the Arbolada neighborhood of Ojai, California, where she spent most of her youth cooking and perfecting her tennis game. She went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Virginia, and upon graduating moved to New York to work in the fashion industry. Over the past seven years, Lori has turned her lifelong passion for the culinary and textile arts into a full-time career. Lori works as a private chef in Southern California, where she also creates special occasion cakes and designs clothing and textiles. As a chef, she loves using local and seasonal produce to create vegetarian and vegan recipes that combine unconventional technique with exotic flavors and natural color. As a seamstress, she gravitates towards upcycled materials, which she’s used to create a line of reworked crop tops, vintage shorts and a collection of intricate denim quilts. In the kitchen and in her sewing studio, Lori enjoys using her creativity to make beautiful things that bring others joy.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
I’ve always loved feeding others. Rather than attending culinary school, I decided to work in a range of different restaurants—from casual small town cafes to 5 star hotels. Mostly, I would classify myself as a self taught cook via trial and error and Youtube. The biggest risk I’ve taken is not ascribing to a conventional corporate job with a built-in structure and instead taking the risk of believing in myself and my work.
What is the first memory you have of encountering art or the artistic process?
My parents got me an easel when I was only 2 years old. I remember painting with my hands outside our home in Ojai. I would work on one painting for hours and add elements of our garden to my work, from rose petals to blades of grass— not much has changed 😉
What are your artistic goals for the future? Next week, or next year, or 20 years from now?
At the moment, I’m working on a cookbook of vegetarian and vegan recipes that infuse seasonal California ingredients with exotic global flavors. In 20 years from now I’d like to be a well-known culinary and visual artist.
What are your most important artistic tools?
My oven, kitchen knife, paint brush, parchment paper, and sewing machine (in that order).
Do you have a daily working routine? What is it like?
Typically I start my morning with lemon water and bulletproof coffee. Then I’ll spend the next several hours working on either cooking or sewing—with cooking, I’ll spend most the day in an uninterrupted rhythm until the dish is finished. Whereas with sewing, I like to take breaks, do something else for a bit, and come back with a fresh set of eyes.
How does practicing your art or craft impact your life or way of thinking?
I’m providing individuals with one of the highest forms of medicine— nutrition. And in order for me to do that, I must first take care of myself. I don’t eat processed food, smoke and I rarely drink alcohol so I can give others the same high standard of wellness.
How do you believe your craft has the power to influence the world outside of the artistic community? Is art important in our current moment of conflict and upheaval?
Oh my! Great question. I consider cooking an art form. Food impacts everything— from climate change, to health and wellness, to human rights, to building community, and beyond.
People are really starting to understand the importance of food and how it relates to our physical, emotional and planetary well-being. By educating others— especially kids— about food such as the importance of high quality ingredients, reducing waste, and making healthy eating choices, I believe we can create a better and more sustainable future.
What do you do, or where do you go to seek fresh ideas or renewed creative energy?
I find inspiration all around me— from the fractals of a romanesco cauliflower to the bright magenta color of beets added to yogurt. I love not only taking traditional flavors and reinventing them in new ways, but also exploring how different cultures serve and share food.
Visually, I gravitate towards relics of the past— so checking out flea markets and thrift stores always give me a ton of ideas. You should see my collection of vintage cookbooks and fabrics!
Anytime I need to renew my creative energy, getting outside and moving my body always helps. Stretching! I love stretching.
What other artists currently working do you admire?
Gahh there are so many. I love taking inspiration from visual art and translating it onto the plate. When I lived in New York, I would spend hours at the Whitney looking at Elizabeth Murray’s bright abstract paintings and image how to translate her colors and composition into food. I’m also constantly inspired by the minimalistic textile design elements of the Bauhaus movement.
Other artists I admire include: New York food stylist Victoria Granof, chef Camille Becerra, tennis star Steffi Graf, and generally any women run business.
Are you inspired by the environment around you? How does the home/city/nature you live in affect your work?
Very much so and I feel grateful to live in California everyday. I always find inspiration walking around my Santa Barbara garden and incorporating the flavors and colors of what’s in season. You’ll also find me hiking around the California mountains foraging for wild and medicinal plants. Right now I’m obsessed with citrus blossoms— they’re aromatic and impart this delicate nectar flavor unlike anything else.
Did you have any artists in your family, mentors, or other important creative influences?
Yes! My family is very musical—my father was a symphonic jazz clarinetist, my uncle a concert pianist and my grandmother a performing tap dancer. My other grandmother was a professional seamstress. I believe all of their creative energy and strong work ethic have absolutely influenced my work.
Why is it important to you to show and share your work to a larger community?
I love sharing my work so others are inspired to learn about the importance of consuming local food made with fresh, highest quality ingredients. It’s exciting to teach others all facets of cooking that I hope will have positive social impacts.
What do you hope to share with those who purchase your art and bring it intimately into their lives?
I hope to share joy with people through my homemade food. Life can be difficult and if I can bring something delicious and beautiful into someone’s day, that makes me feel as if I’ve made a positive impact.