Delicious Eats Await At The Derby

In a city where neighborhoods reinvent themselves with same speed as Madonna, hearing that a new restaurant has sprung is just par for the course.  The Lower East Side is just one of many NYC neighborhoods that is shedding the skin of its past, and I just got the scoop on a new place that you and your peeps will want to make your “old haunt” very fast.

20140521_161810The name is The Derby and it opened a little over a month ago.  Located at 167 Orchard Street this eatery specializes in biscuits and bourbon and southern cuisine standards such as cheddar grits, chicken fried steak and baked macaroni and cheese.   The music creates a cool eclectic, vibe.   The décor is a mash-up between bar at Churchill Downs and a scene from The Great Gatsby with a speakeasy located in the basement – a great setting for a private get together.

20140521_161824I know what you’re thinking, the vintage furnishings sound nice, but how is the food?  Well FAMERS…the food is scrumptious.  I suggest the fried chicken, if you’re looking to have a cheat day on your diet.  The pieces are fried to golden perfection and the meat is juicy.  It comes with a side of fried okra and let me tell you, any place that can get me to like okra gets high marks in my book.

20140521_161954If this place was running in the upcoming Belmont Stakes, I would put my money down on The Derby.  It’s a shoo-in and a cool place to have a bite to eat in the summertime.  And if you do, say hello to Gabe, the restaurant’s manager.   He’s very personable and a definite added attraction.  Good food, good vibe, good people, good prices…there is nothing not to like about The Derby.

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The Browning of The American Dream

The Lower East Side is known for being home to famous Latino artists such as poet Miguel Pinero, artist George Lee Quiñones and poet and activist Clemente Soto Vélez.  Soto Vélez was known for mentoring many generations of artists in Puerto Rico and NYC.  His legacy impacted the cultural, social and economic lives of Latinos worldwide.  So it’s befitting that an exhibit that questions the Latino’s role in achieving the American Dream, and even pokes fun at it, should premier at the center bearing his name.

20140403_182437On April 3 Make ‘Em All Mexican debuted at The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center.   Conceptualized by L.A. based artist Linda Vallejo, MEAM is her satirical solution to a familiar question: “Where do I fit into the American Dream?”  Vallejo’s answer is a comedic, yet thought provoking look at American iconography from a Chicano point of view.  She takes old photographs, figurines and dolls and gives them a tan shellacking thereby providing them a new purpose, new meaning.

Just imagine…John, Paul, George and Ringo with brown faces and how that drastic change in skin color would’ve affected their role in history and pop culture.  Or the Flintstones…how would different would Bedrock be if Fred and Barney had brown skin, with Barney’s skin being a couple shades darker than Fred’s once again questioning how skin color plays a role within one’s ethnicity.  These are the types of scenarios that are explored through Vallejo’s work.

20140403_183324Over 30 pieces are displayed in the exhibit, some making the literal transformation to brown while others, like The Empire State Building glazed in a cocoa tint, are more esoteric in its challenge of The American Dream.  Aristocrats, founding fathers, Norman Rockwell, even John Belushi doesn’t get spared in Vallejo’s recoloring of American/pop imagery.  Looking at the Superman bust all glistening in candy coated caramel made him appear more animated.

While I had seen photographs of the work, the pieces were extremely dynamic in person.  When displayed together, I felt as if I had stepped into a surreal universe; one that was actually closer to the world I lived in.  As I walked around the room, I began to realize why the work fascinated me.  When I was a girl my father, an avid collector of antiques, brought home two lawn jockeys, only these jockeys didn’t have the traditional jockey outfit, these boys were barefoot slaves.  I asked my dad what he was going to do with them.  He simply said, “I’m going to paint them.”  He told me the history of these boys, how they were a symbol of the racism that is embedded in the core of this country.  Slowly, I watched these slave boys transform.  With primer and a few coats of paint to their skin, I began to see their features more clearly.  I saw their personalities bloom in the colors my father chose for their clothing. The lanterns were replaced with flags.  The sepia-skinned boy held the red, black and green colors of the Black Liberation flag.   The dark-skinned statue held the flag of The African National Congress.  Through this makeover these boys had a new purpose; they were the embodiment of pride.  They instilled pride in me as well.

20140403_192515Growing up watching those boys in my backyard, from my bedroom window gave me a constant reminder of my roots.  It also made me realize that “The American Dream” also belonged to me, that it came in multiple hues, not just red, white and blue.  It is my belief that Make ‘Em All Mexican will do the same for Latinos.  Make ‘Em All Mexican is on display until April 27.  FAMERS get down to The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center and get yourself a good dose of brown.

 

F.A.M.E NYC Recommends Make ‘Em All Mexican

Elvis is known as the king, but what if his last name was Chavez and instead of being the king of rock ‘n roll, he was the king of Tejano?  Marilyn Monroe has remained the pinnacle of Hollywood beauty and sex appeal for over 50 years, but what if her last name was really Martinez?  What if Superman was actually an Aztec warrior from another plane of existence instead of an alien from another planet?  What if this nation’s founding fathers actually migrated from Mexico instead of Great Britain?  Elvis Chavez…Marilyn Martinez…George Washington with a permanent tan?  How would these modifications change the course of American history and iconography if they were true?  If you have ever pondered questions like these, then I’ve got something to share with you.

Vallejo5-182x300FAMERS, I’ve got the scoop on something hilariously provocative coming this way via the other coast.  Beginning next month the Lower East Side’s Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center will play host to a Chicano invasion courtesy of L.A. based artist Linda Vallejo.  For 20 years Vallejo’s work had been influenced by her study of ancient culture, architecture and symbols.  In recent years, Vallejo has taken memories of growing up in the segregated South during the 1960s and her experiences as a Mexican-American, Chicana to produce a new series titled “Make ‘Em All Mexican.”

“Make ‘Em All Mexican” uses cheeky wit to address a larger topic, which can be drilled down to one fact, the skin we are born in colors our perception of the world and our experiences.  Although it speaks to the Latino/Mexican-American/Chicano conundrum directly, it’s by no means a show for Latinos exclusively.  In fact, members of all minority groups in this country have a story that is reflected in this exhibition.  It’s a springboard in which we can all dive deeper into the issues that fester in the stitches of the stars and stripes.  “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is ripe for the Big Apple, adding an essential dash of spice to melting pot of this city.  I got an opportunity to speak with Linda as she prepares to bring her show to Manhattan.  She answered a few questions about herself and the importance of the show.

1.    What made you want to become an artist?

I have always been an artist.  I think I was born that way.  My first experience was at four-years-old in kindergarten.  We were finger painting on large pieces of paper with an egg drawn on it for Easter.  I was on my knees with my hands in the paint and I can still remember the smell.  I loved it and I knew it.  I was also very fortunate to have a first grade teacher that used literature to inspire painting projects.  We would read a book and then go to the back of the classroom to paint with easels and brushes on large pads of paper.  I won several prizes and loved the literature/visual art link which still inspires me today.  I sang as a young girl in the church choir and painted.  At twelve, I was playing guitar, writing music and painting.  In high school, I designed clothes, wrote music and painted, and in college I worked in theater, wrote music and painted.  All my life.  An artist is simply an artist.  We can’t help it…we’ve just got to live it.

2.    New York City has a large Hispanic population. As a west coast based artist how important is it to you for this show to be seen in NYC and why?

All my colleagues in Los Angeles are very happy that I’m taking the work to New York.  New York shows mean a great deal to any artistic career.  “Brown” isn’t just a West Coast/Los Angeles/Mexican phenomenon, the politics of color is a global issue.  I am very excited to connect with Mexicanos, Cubanos and Puerto Riquenos in New York to expand the conversation, share our stores and heal some wounds.  A positive response from the New York arts community would certainly give MEAM additional cache as New York is still considered the center of the art world.

3.    When you summon the creative gods to assist you with your work, who do you pray to?

I ask the Sacred Four Directions, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Great Spirit to help me create an image with meaning and purpose.

4.    Today…right now, which piece out of “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is your favorite and why?

I’m enthralled with the new larger series of sculptures including “Super Hombre.”  It took weeks to find a 1:1 ratio/life size bust of Super Man.  My fabricator, Chino, is a car body specialist and a perfectionist.  I have been working with him for months on this new series that creates a “car culture sub-text” by painting repurposed sculpture “as if they were cars” including metal flake, hand painting, and chrome details.  The result is a luscious chocolate coating that many say is “good enough to eat!”  One person said, “Super Hombre” is “Chocoliscious!” or “I want to lick it!”

First the viewer laughs out load, then she or he is seduced by the luscious edible beauty of the object itself, and then the questions start pouring in:  Is brown good enough?  Can brown be beautiful? Can a superhero be brown? The answers are, absolutely!  There are five of these larger works and three of them will be in NYC, but I’m only sharing the additional images with those that make it to the show in New York.

5.    If you were asked to describe “Make ‘Em All Mexican” to a New Yorker using three words, which words would you pick?

Brown is beautiful!

“Make ‘Em All Mexican” opens at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, located at 107 Suffolk St, on April 3 and includes an artist talk and discussion.  FAMERS don’t wait until Cinco de Mayo to channel your inner Chicano.  Get down to the barrio of the Lower East Side and get a good dose of artistic consciousness.