Restaurant News & Reviews

Culinary, theatrical arts celebrate a Broadway legend’s work, minus the human flesh

Some people — such as legendary Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, whose musicals include “Company,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods,” among others — tell stories with words and music, while others do it with pictures or choreography.

Ouita Michel does it with cooking. The James Beard Award-nominated chef — who owns and operates a string of acclaimed Central Kentucky restaurants including Honeywood, Windy Corner Market and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, Holly Hill Inn in Midway and Wallace Station in Versailles — has long practiced cooking as a form of storytelling.

In “Script to Table,” a hybrid theatrical/culinary event cooked up by Lexington Theatre Company this weekend, Michel will show off her narrative chops in a three-course interpretive menu inspired by some of the songs in “Sondheim on Sondheim,” a 2010 musical revue of Sondheim’s work to be performed at Fasig-Tipton by a cast of Broadway veterans, alumni of The Lex’s summer productions and a seven-piece band.

“I’m a chef who’s inspired by Sondheim,” Michel, 55, says in an interview. “It’s really quite something to read his lyrics, and then watch someone perform them onstage in a way that’s 100 percent musical and completely conversational at the same time. He’s a classic storyteller, and I’ve always aspired to that in my cooking. For me it’s an art form and a craft, not just a business.”

Among her “Script to Table” creations is “Into the Woods,” an edible centerpiece for each table. It features tiny celery vases, chilled asparagus, baby carrots, pickled pumpkin, “Jack’s magic beans,” Capriole goat cheese rolled in toasted pumpkin seeds, mixed nuts, marinated olives and a variety of breads (meant to evoke the Baker in the musical) include sourdough, yeast rolls and a crispy Turkish flatbread called pide.

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Ouita Michel, who owns and operates a string of acclaimed Central Kentucky restaurants, said Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim is “a classic storyteller, and I’ve always aspired to that in my cooking.” Pablo Alcala 2017 staff file photo

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Another dish, “Sunday in the Park” — inspired by Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 musical about the French painter Georges Seurat — evokes Seurat’s famous pointillist style with a smoked salmon salad dotted with bits of cucumber, beet horseradish, cherry tomato, zucchini, smoked salmon, shrimp mousse and crimson flying-fish roe.

“I’m a huge fan of Ouita’s and her storytelling through food,” says Lexington Theatre Company artistic director Lyndy Franklin Smith, who’s staging “Sondheim on Sondheim” with a cast featuring Jeremy Landon Hays, whose Broadway credits include lead roles “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Misérables,” and Kim Huber, who gave more than 1,000 performances as Belle in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

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Jeremy Landon Hays, left, and Kim Huber will be two of the performers bringing Stephen Sondheim’s songs to life. Photos provided

Smith and her company combine “Sondheim on Sondheim” — which includes video clips of the composer himself narrating the intertwining stories of his life and his musicals — with a meal by Michel, whose arts-minded approach to cooking has manifested in other events such as Holly Hill’s ongoing Poetry Dinner Series featuring dishes inspired by Kentucky poets.

“It just made perfect sense to have an evening which puts Sondheim’s musical storytelling and Ouita’s culinary storytelling side by side,” Smith says. “We also spent a whole day with Ouita shooting a video about her artistic journey that parallels the Sondheim video.”

Inevitably, perhaps, the “Script to Table” meal will also include certain delicacies inspired by Sondheim’s penny-dreadful masterpiece, “Sweeney Todd,” in which a character named Mrs. Lovett develops a brisk business with her delicious meat pies secretly made from the bodies of victims of the show’s vengeful title character, also known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

“You’ve got to address the elephant in the room,” Michel says with a cackle worthy of Mrs. Lovett herself. “But no, I won’t be using human flesh.”

Script to Table

Where: Lexington Theatre Company at Fasig-Tipton, 2400 Newtown Pike

When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 8-9

Tickets: $150 at Lexingtontheatrecompany.org

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