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Chef serves art salvaged from disaster

The Southern California wildfires of 2007 and 2009 are a distant memory for most, but an organization that emerged from the devastation is alive and kicking. ART from the ashes, a Glendale-based cooperative of artists and volunteers that creates artworks out of the detritus of natural disasters, recently hosted a pop-up restaurant and exhibit, Comida Y Arte, in the ultra-cool Wine Vault on Brand. The food was tasty, the artwork tastier. And for another month, you can sample the art for yourself.

Chef Sandra Cordero of catering company Cordero Negro created a special menu for the weekend pop-up, combining her Spanish/Dutch culinary background with her love of locally sourced, high-quality food and drink. Paella, done two ways, held court that night. One was made with traditional Spanish sausage and seafood. Its less saffron-y sister paella featured fresh farmer's market vegetables. The standout dish of the evening was the pequillo pepper salad with greens from Scarborough Farms, crispy jamon from La Espanola Meats, crunchy Marcona almonds and a killer dressing. The Cointreau-laced sangria and the rich, dark cup of James Coffee also linger in my mind.

What fed my soul the most that night was the artwork. Artists were encouraged to interpret a theme of food. Minas Halaj's oil on linen works with their deep burgundies and browns, to me, evoke slow-cooked stews. Dick Heimbold's accomplished plein air landscape "Lunch at the (Great White) Hut" is more straightforward in its interpretation. Kim Koga's rendering of Ball jars filled with neon "Pickles, Plums, and Peas" and Michael Flechtner's "Electric Potato Masher" would be amusing (and useful) additions to any night kitchen. The cadre of other neon artists on exhibit had me looking forward to the ribbon-cutting of the new Museum of Neon Art, whenever that is.

There are large, living room wall pieces and smaller objets d'art worth close investigation. Mike Stilkey's "Fire Within" is skillfully painted on the spines and covers of a stack of vintage books. Lovely hand-shaped table lights, botanical block prints and finely crafted ceramics are also on display.

ART from the ashes encourages artists to use materials salvaged from site significant locations. Finished pieces are often sold to benefit the victims of that disaster. In 2009, for instance, AFTA raised money for the restoration of Deukmejian Park after the fires damaged this valued resource. Proceeds from Comida Y Arte will fund AFTA's programming for the coming year, including a benefit for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Though not all the pieces in this exhibit appear to use reclaimed materials, there's an overriding vibe of gritty meets pretty. The Wine Vault, in the old Bekins Building, already has that going for it with its bunker feel. The imported screens of chain link fence add urban grit not to mention handy walls to hang things on.

The exhibition, extended through May 31st, may be viewed by appointment by contacting info@artfromtheashes.com. Or see the artwork while dining at Chef Gary Menes's outstanding pop-up restaurant, Le Comptoir, Thursday through Saturday until the end of May at the Wine Vault. Reservations can be made at www.lecomptoirla.com.

What: 'ART from the ashes' Comida Y Arte Art Exhibit

Where: The Wine Vault, 929 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Thursday through Saturday or by appointment, through May 31

More information: artfromtheashes.org

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LISA DUPUY has reviewed more than 100 area restaurants. She welcomes comments at ldupuy@aol.com.

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