A Cautious Reopening Meets an Ambitious Photo Exhibit at San Francisco’s Palette

Maren Caruso is one of the photographers featured in the exhibit. She looks at food as an art medium, and it's always been a passion.  (Maren Caruso / Palette)

After a months-long break due to the pandemic, San Francisco's Palette has reopened with bold plans to continue blurring the line between art and food. Due to stricter restrictions enacted over the weekend due to rising COVID levels, dining is currently available outdoors, while the gallery remains open to the public.

And it's the gallery that immediately makes Palette stand out. The restaurant, community and art space debuted in October, featuring some of the region's best food photographers with an exhibit called Flavors of Photography. Having worked with some of the photographers directly, chef-owner Peter Hemsley wanted to celebrate the caliber and diversity of local talent. He sought to explore two questions: Where do food and art intersect? When does an image stop being an advertisement and can it be a piece of fine art?

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Flavors of Photography features 19 different artists and 85 photographs in the newly renovated space, with new gallery lights and a shiny black floor. The variety of color and styles is truly a visual feast. Each artist brings their own creative approach and individual perspective of food, exploring ingredients, cultures and places.

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“Many food photographers do a lot of commercial work, which wouldn’t be shown in a gallery. This is an opportunity for them to take ownership of their work and to present themselves as artists,” said Lena Conley, Gallery Coordinator. Artists include people like Sara Remington, Nicola Parisi, Eric Wolfinger and Rob Williamson.

Hemsley, who has been involved with art in different capacities since childhood, has always had a curiosity and appreciation for art and artists. "Artistic talent, like other talented people, find a way to continue to be productive and creative and have work even in a poor economy," said Hemsley. Palette infuses art into all aspects of service while highlighting the work of local artists; all of the ceramics, glassware and cutlery are handmade in the Bay Area.

The gallery and outdoor dining space reopened as part of a tiered reopening plan, which includes the newly renovated interior dining room, bar and private dining room. Each of the spaces have a distinct look, feel and menu that is ever-evolving. Hemsley plans to eventually transition the gallery to a lounge in the evening so guests can enjoy the art in a more relaxed setting, where an absinthe-focused cocktail menu and French brasserie inspired food menu are in the works. (For now, while outdoor dining remains open, the gallery does not serve food or drinks.)

After November, Palette is slated to host the exhibition Abstract By Nature, featuring paintings by local artists Jun Yang and You Been Kim, who were asked to create "internal self-portraits" that reflect the complex experience of living through this turbulent year.