The artist/server behind Ritz-Carlton Toronto’s not-quite-edible art

When Ontario College of Art and Design graduate Jacqueline Poirier wasn’t getting any traction with her abstract canvas paintings four years ago, she became a server at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto’s Toca restaurant. Eight months later, her manager saw her compete in — and win — a live painting contest in the city, and asked if she’d like to paint on the restaurant’s porcelain charger plates (an unprecedented invitation). Her bosses were so impressed they suggested she do the whole dinner service with the help of other local artists, but Poirier had other ideas. “I thought, ‘I’m not telling anyone else about this, I’m going to do all of these myself,’” she says. “It took me two to three weeks to paint all 120 and the moment I filled the dining room, people were asking to buy them,” she says. Poirier went on to become the hotel’s artist in residence.

Meanwhile, she continued to work at the restaurant as a server for the next eight months. “People came in for a food and wine experience, but had the option of taking home a piece of local art for $200.” She still creates pieces for the Ritz-Carlton, but has started her own business doing custom work and is painting non-stop. “Each plate takes many layers of porcelain paint and then glaze, which helps brighten the colour and adhere the paint.” Poirier then bakes them in an oven to set. All in all, it’s about three hours of painting and 24 hours to cure a single dish.

Most recently, Poirier has been working on an exhibition called “A Feast for the Eyes,” which is on display in Toronto’s Distillery District until the end of September. “My painting partner Brooke and I just thought of our favourite foods. I thought, I like grilled cheese and pizza and Nerds. It was great fun to paint stuff for ourselves.”

When asked what’s next, the artists doesn’t miss a beat: “I want to do a selfie plate. It sounds so vain but I think it would be really funny.” She’s also looking to the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 10-20) for inspiration. “I’m really excited for TIFF because the Ritz-Carlton is so close to the TIFF Bell Lightbox and it’s a really buzzy area. I caught the attention of international A-listers last year and I want to see who is on the roster this fall and get painting,” she says. Last year, Morgan Freeman bought the Morgan Freeman plate and Al Pacino bought his face on a plate, too. “This is why I don’t feel bad painting a selfie plate,” says Poirier, “because plenty of other people are buying plate pictures of themselves!” 

For custom plates by Poirier, visit jacquelinepoirier.com.

Read more from La Carte’s first quarterly here.

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