People ask Robin Leventhal all the time when she's going to open another Crave (she's not). Feeling a tad burned-out on the line, the Top Chef season six contestant prefers to spend her time these days stoking the fire of her ceramics obsession--something she's been doing for quite some time since earning her Masters of Fine Art degree from the University of Michigan. On the "what's new" side of things, and what many people don't know, is that Leventhal is a certified auctioneer. She spent weeks training for her new passion in Montana earlier this year and now she's hungrier than ever to get on the stage and show her stuff. And anyone who has ever met Leventhal knows that her "stuff" is pretty magnetic.
Today, Leventhal talks to us about the road she's currently traveling on now that she no longer is--and no longer wants to be--spending every day sweating in a kitchen. If there is sweating to be had, it's going to be in front of a kiln.
Let's talk about your art. Are you currently in the studio making something?
I am working on a series of wall sconces that celebrate life based on plant and human seed forms. They feature a cracked and eroding surface with a juicy interior oozing from within. The function is secondary for me. They could be used as a flower vase on the wall or simply act as a visual bouquet on their own. I am calling the series "Swimming Up Stream." It's a direct metaphor for how we are manipulating nature with GMO's and the persistence of famine and lack of clean water for so many millions of humans that tragically persists. I very much see them as shrines and reliquaries to our very survival.
What role has art played in your life - and is it different than the role it currently plays?
Art for me has always been an escape. The minute my hands touch the clay I get lost in the pleasure of the moment and the surprise that is revealed from my exploration. Not all pieces are a success, so there is an element of discovery and sense of accomplishment when I feel a piece sings. Art is the counter balance to all the mundane tasks that can consume life. "Does my lawn need mowing or should I head into the studio?" It's an obvious choice for me!
What type of art are you attracted to most?
Generally, it's beauty that draw's me in to a specific piece with it's form, color or texture. I love materials, in particular clay wood, textiles, found object art and texturally rich two dimensional work. I am a naturalist at heart, but love the Asian aesthetic of restraint and simplicity as well. Embellished ornamental, organic beauty or the simplicity of a single mark all enthrall me. I am less attracted to visually chaotic iconography. I find peace and serenity in a piece of art that brings me a sense of pleasure through beauty.
Tell me how you got into auctioneering.
It was an accident really! I was diagnosed with two forms of Lymphoma in 2004 and after a few years decided to put an auction on for Fred Hutch called "Copper Cure". Dan Savage was my MC but I naively did not realize that was a separate role than auctioneer. When it came time to do the auction, Dan asked me who was doing the "ask" portion of the event. On the fly, I assumed the role. I knew every person in the room and every item in the catalogue, so it felt like a natural fit for me. What I did not expect was the high I had from it following the event. It was empowering in all the right ways and has been in the back burner as another skill set to foster.
I see auctioneering as a catalyst to bring community and cause together. There is great satisfaction that happens when you facilitate a room of passionate people to support a mission.
Is it related to cooking in any way?
It's a "feel good" experience and yes, it's completely connected to food and making art for that matter. I am a pleaser at my core. I love nothing more than making you happy. If it is through your belly, a pod I've made that you can't put down, or by generating support for a worthwhile cause, the end result is one of bringing about a better state for the individual and community alike.
What was your first auction gig and what is your next one?
My first was "Copper Cure" for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 2008.
My next auction is "Under the Harvest Moon" for the Tilth Producers of Washington on September 15th; we will be raising support for the organic farmers of Washington. I could not be more thrilled as a chef to also utilize my voice and passion for this cause! And now, having graduated the Western College of Auctioneering back in April, I can bring professionalism to maximize the giving.
What's your favorite way to spend the day?
I am a huge outdoors person and summer is the best time for taking full advantage of the beauty we have here in the PNW . But first I have to clear my desk before I can get into that happy place! I've been in my Ballard home for 20 years and have a very established garden with prolific fruit trees. This was a bummer crop year and has lead to lots of canning with pickled cherries, plum preserves and chutneys. Now it's time for apples.
I have also taken up being a Mother Hen and love watching my chickens scratch about and enjoying all the bounty of my garden. I revel in any opportunity to cook and spend time with close friends, rollerblade around Greenlake, spending time in the studio, camping and getting out of town; these are all the things that bring me peace right now.
What are 5 words that describe your life since you sold Crave?
Relaxed, rested, balanced, enriched and plumper--the result of being in a stress-free state and having the time to actually go try other restaurants!