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Food for thought: Bemidji woman brings artistry to cuisine

A micro image of a chard leaf was digitally manipulated to create a mandala, a Sanskrit word meaning circle which usually refers to the circle of life. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 5
Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 5
With a radish and red pepper body and cucumber wings, this dragonfly would be a welcome guest at a picnic. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer3 / 5
After the design and photography, Moni Schneider uses her computer software to tweak her images. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer4 / 5
Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer5 / 5
 BEMIDJI - Moni Schneider’s experience as a chef and an artist work in tandem as she prepares and photographs food.

 Moni Schneider has sharpened her photographic skills that she started to learn as a high school student at Ursuline Academy in St. Louis, Mo. 

Schneider, as the photographer for her high school’s yearbook, developed her own black and white shots and really let that avocation lapse until a few years ago.

 Schneider went on to earn an undergraduate degree in German and secondary education from St. Louis University, but it was in her master’s program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison that she learned about Concordia Language Villages.

 “I applied for a teaching position but it was too late for the season so I went there as a cook in 1992 for the French and German villages,”Schneider said. “I worked there during the summer until 1998 and then stayed there full time until my business partner and I bought the old Uptown Café and revamped it to the Wild Hare Bistro and Coffee House.”
 At Concordia Language Villages, people visited for various functions and Schneider said many told her to open a place in town. 

 She and co-owner Reed Olson knew and worked with each other for about 10 years before starting the business.

 Schneider's husband, Norwood Hall, used to make beautiful designs on the top of the lattes at the Wild Hare. People would comment that they were too pretty to spoil and that was probably when Hall got the idea for a photo exhibit by Schneider for a First Friday exhibit installation about six years ago.

 “I picked up the camera again and found that I liked to shoot,” Schneider said recently. “I like getting close to something and looking at it in a different way. Cooking for us at home, I realized that my culinary journeys take me directly along the spice route – North African, Middle-Eastern, Indian and Thai are my go-to flavors.”

 When they go back to St. Louis, Schneider and her husband like to browse the different stalls at the Global Foods Market in Kirkwood, Mo.

 “Each aisle tells the story of a culture, and there are many, many cultures represented in this culinary mecca of mine,” wrote Schneider in one of her artist’s statements.

 In a different show by Schneider, “Edible Mandala,” she used the circular design of the Sanskrit word “mandala” – meaning circle – to explore the joy she and her staff share when preparing a plate for the customer.

 As Schneider wrote in her artist’s statement for the show, “We attempt to take the multi-dimensional experience of food and pluck out some of the dazzling visual aspects that inspire us and present them for your viewing pleasure.”

 As anyone who likes to cook knows, there are moments when the ingredients are colorful, have intricate lines and create patterns of their own. Schneider’s photos range from the complex mandala of a clove or a drop of paprika to the simple garlic bulb.

 She also likes the juxtaposition of the permanence of a photo and the lack of permanence in food art. When you start to eat food art, it is destroyed only to be repeated again in a different pattern in another place and time.

 “Is it a coincidence that my mind is most open to new ideas within this chosen artistic realm of mine?” Schneider pondered. “I like to think it’s not so much an accident as a deliberate, successful choice.”