"I don't mind if my peas and my mashed potatoes touch each other," says Christine Bethea. She's talking about her art boutique, ARTica -- the kind of place where gallery-quality artwork is displayed alongside, as Bethea puts it, "junk and stuff and things." But her food metaphor is serendipitous.
Bethea marks the Friendship shop's first anniversary with a cooking-demonstration series. Mondays in October, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., $7 buys a class taught by a professional chef from the Penn Avenue corridor, plus food samples and a beverage.
Bethea is an artist and art teacher, best known for fiber-based works that explore the African-American experience. The ebullient Shadyside resident also organizes arts events: Her Passports Art Diversity program was one of three initiatives recognized for business and arts collaborations by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.
ARTica began with help from community-development group Friendship Development Associates. It was the perfect excuse for the Pittsburgh-born former Kaufmann's copywriter to indulge her passion for odds and ends.
The boutique stocks vintage electronics, clothing, handmade jewelry and more, from random 1940s family snapshots to acclaimed artist Vanessa German's wild found-object-adorned baby dolls. Bethea calls it "The Jerry Seinfeld of galleries -- it's a gallery about nothing."
One thing Bethea herself isn't: culinary. "I'm not a chef at all. I've always just been really fascinated with cooking shows.'' But from Lawrenceville to East Liberty, Penn Avenue's restaurant scene is blooming.
At ARTica, naturally, chefs will face some interesting challenges. "We're actually gonna put 'em in the window," says Bethea. The absence of cooking facilities in said storefront requires, in TV-chef talk, "a cold-cooking challenge." And it's one dish per chef.
Chef T.J., from nearby Z-Best BBQ, leads off Oct. 5 with an Autumn BBQ class. (He'll cheat some by grilling outside.)
On Oct. 12, the instructor is Steven Harlow, whose gigs include the vegan Starving Artist Sunday Supper, at Brillobox. He's tackling a misunderstood foodstuff.
"Everyone turns their nose up at tofu," says Harlow. "The thing with tofu is you have to marinate it correctly to incorporate flavor into it."
The trick involves freezing the marinaded 'fu. Harlow will show how with his roasted-shallot lemon vinaigrette, the tofu pan-seared and adorning a mesclun salad with caramelized onions.
The Oct. 19 and 26 chefs are yet to be determined. But they're also sure to demonstrate how, as Bethea says, "Cooking is an art form anyway."
5110 Penn Ave.