Hunt Slonem’s world is filled with watercolors, thrift store furniture and lots and lots of pet birds. The only birds in Chef John DeLucie’s life are likely on plates at his Manhattan restaurants (Crown, The Lion and Bill’s Food & Drink). Yet, the restaurateur and the internationally acclaimed artist have maintained an inspiring friendship for the past several years. When Hunt’s not immersed in a new painting, he’ll grab a bite at The Lion (he likes their biscuits) and perhaps stare at his own pieces hanging on the wall, of which John has hung several favorites.
NeueHouse sat down with the talented, trendsetting duo as they reminisce on dining out, staying in and that famous rabbit painting.
Hunt Slonem: How would you describe your food, John?
John Delucie: I have an Italian background with some French training, but when I opened the Waverly Inn, the idea was really comfort food – and I got comfortable doing that. For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to come up with another name for comfort food but haven’t had any luck [laughs]. I’d say my food is accessible, modern and natural. I never want anything to be too pretty or perfect.
Slonem: I love the mixture of old and new in your restaurants, in the food and the art. It’s never predictable – that’s the way my houses are. I’m interested in the look of the times, certainly, but I love the patina of 150 years of neglect. I like to have a painting with scratch marks on it. It’s quite marvelous.
Delucie: Art is paramount in all of our restaurants – and your art always gets the biggest response from our guests. It’s whimsical and positive. When we had the painting of the rabbits on the walls, guests were asking me about them all the time.
Slonem: Well I definitely think those rabbits livened things up [laughs] That wall was quite memorable.
Delucie: How exactly would you describe your art?
Slonem: It’s a lifelong investigation of the exotic flora and fauna, mostly stemming from my childhood in Hawaii. I was always craving something other than pine trees. In my home, I have 60 parrots (mostly rescued), fish, a turtle, orchids, and palm trees. That kind of environment is my foothold of creative expression.
Delucie: Why do you paint so many Abraham Lincolns?
Slonem: Well, I’ve always painted Mary Todd Lincoln, who I was interested in as a user of psychics. She brought spiritualism to the White House during her husband’s reign. Mary Todd was everything I like: she dressed beautifully and didn’t care about the cost. Her husband has been channeled in my house and he’s had a lot to say to me over the years.
Delucie: So would you consider yourself a pop artist?
Slonem: I’ve been called all sorts of things…