Artist’s 3D chalk works look good enough to eat
Nate Baranowski’s 3D chalk portraits dazzle in Howard Street virtual festival
Nate Baranowski sat in his Hyde Park apartment and picked up a golden yellow pastel pencil. The 32-year-old 3D chalk artist shaded in a piece of foldedover cabbage, completing his rendition of Senegal’s national dish: vegetables, jollof rice and an entire fish — each element seeming to leap off the paper into reality.
Meanwhile, 20 miles north in Rogers Park, Badara “Badou” Diakhate, 57, chatted about the cooking process behind the dish Baranowski was drawing. The fish-andrice combination is a best-seller at Badou Senegalese Cuisine, Diakhate’s restaurant on Howard Street.
The artist and restaurateur pair connected online via Instagram Live for the fourth stop of this summer’s Virtual Chalk
Howard Street. Last year, artists, business owners and community members gathered on Howard Street — the divider between Evanston and Rogers Park — for Chalk Howard Street, a street art festival featuring mind-bending 3D chalk scenes. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s festival has gone virtual, with Baranowski creating a 3D rendition inspired by different Howard Street businesses while he interviews shop owners.
Over the past few weeks, Baranowski has drawn Settlers of Catan game pieces from Athena Board Game Cafe, rum punch from Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine and a pizza from Salerno’s on Tap, all on Howard Street. Antique shop Lost Eras marks the next stop on the virtual tour on Aug. 14, and, going forward, Rogers Park Business Alliance plans to continue the series.
Anamorphic art, the formal name for these 3D-looking creations, appears distorted when looking head-on at the piece. But at the proper vantage point, the art seems to jump out of the canvas (picture a sidewalk mural of a hole that looks like someone might fall into). After studying fine arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Baranowski was working a design job in Florida when he first saw artists completing 3D chalk drawings. A year later, his own 3D chalk art career took off.
Since many of Baranowski’s pieces are chalk pastels brought to life on a city sidewalk, most creations disappear within a week of completion. Baranowski said he doesn’t mind, noting that his purpose behind the art is to give temporary joy to onlookers. He recalls only a handful of times when a sudden downpour completely washed a piece away in the middle of his work, the only time he’s “really sad” about the temporary nature of his art.
Scenes of Disney characters, baseball players and alligators make up Baranowski’s portfolio, each piece an optical illusion and perfect photo op for a social media post.
“I usually say my favorite job is the one I just did or the one I’m doing now,” Baranowski said. “I love the excitement of starting a new job.”
At Badou Senegalese cuisine, the West African country’s national dish isn’t the only crowd pleaser. Diakhate’s kitchen makes yassa, a plate where caramelized onions are the star; mafe, a peanut butter stew; and jollof rice, a staple with a hotly contested nation of origin, though Diakhate insists on the dish’s Senegalese roots.
Diakhate’s culinary roots stem back to his childhood in Senegal, spending summers working at his grandmother’s farm. One day, on their three-mile trek to the farm, his grandmother pointed out a patch of hyena footprints, causing Diakhate to start shaking in fear. The next morning, Diakhate faked illness to get out of going to the farm, instead spending the day helping fishers
pull their haul from their boats. They gifted Diakhate with several fish — some of which he sold to buy condiments. He cooked up a “city meal,” inspired by his mother’s cooking back home, and his family found the meal so delicious that they didn’t make him go to the farm and risk being eaten by hyenas anymore, Diakhate said.
“I did not want to be eaten by hyena,” he said. “That’s how I became a chef.”
Diakhate moved to the states 33 years ago, working as a senior editor at Northwestern University’s library for 20 of those years, at which point he decided it was time for a career switch.
He’d considered returning to Senegal and running for president. But when his oldest daughter planted the seed of her father opening a restaurant, Badou Senegalese Cuisine was born in 2012.
“Food, as we know, is an expression of the culture,” Diakhate said. “I’ve used the food to promote Senegalese and African culture, try to foster peace, awareness.”
Since the pandemic brought the restaurant industry to a near standstill in March, maintaining business has been an uphill battle, Diakhate said, especially because people would often hold parties and events at his restaurant. Even since reopening up at 25% at the end of June, Diakhate estimates he’s only served 50 dine-in customers, instead relying on take-out and delivery orders to bring in revenue.
It’s for that very reason that artist Baranowski says Virtual Chalk Howard Street is all about spotlighting local business owners and attracting customers to businesses struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are the stars of these virtual events,” Baranowski said. “If people like the chalk art along the way, to me, it’s a bonus.”
Senegal’s national dish at Badou Senegalese Cuisine is captured in a 3D chalk art portrait.
Artist Nate Baranowski creates a 3D version of a Senegalese national dish (above) using pastel pencils during the Virtual Chalk Howard Street festival at Badou Senegalese Cuisine restaurant in Rogers Park.
Chef/owner Badou Diakhate of Badou Senegalese Cuisine, is photographed at his Rogers Park restaurant.
TOP ROW (from left): Ginger pineapple drink, yassa with chicken, Senegalese national fish dish, and mafe. ABOVE (from left): stuffed chicken balls, plantains and jerk chicken.