When you enter Asada, the Latin American fusion restaurant on Wade Hampton Boulevard, you’ve stepped into the manifestation of Roberto Cortez’s creative imagination. Not only are the restaurant’s special dishes a combination of colors, flavors, textures, and cooking methods, but so too are Asada’s walls, upon which Cortez’s oil and acrylic paintings pop and sizzle, soothe and stimulate—it’s a sensory mecca.
Cortez and his wife, Gina Petti, moved to Greenville from San Francisco in 2007 and opened their first restaurant here in 2014. Cortez’s brother had relocated to the Upstate, and, while on a visit, Cortez and Petti fell for Greenville’s less-hectic lifestyle and robust creative community.
Cortez is a self-taught chef and artist, and a former industrial designer. While he started painting only 10 years ago, he’s always sought out creative expression. He remembers drawing and spending hours painting and assembling model planes as a child in Nicaragua. “I have great memories of childhood at the beach and the ocean. In a tropical place, everything seems to be brighter, the colors bolder,” he says.
While painting and cooking seem like wildly different activities, both draw upon the same creative process. “A new plate I’d like to create—I see it as my canvas. You have to combine textures, flavors, colors, processes. With painting—just like with creating a new dish—there’s trial and error. Being able to confront uncertainty is important,” he says.
Cortez typically creates spontaneously, relying upon intuition and reveling in surprise: “I usually let the painting become what it wants to become.”
Painting abstracts allows Cortez these liberties. Wide swaths of color—cobalt turquoise, manganese blue, red iron oxide, cadmium yellow—swirl and fuse into bright, bold, and otherworldly compositions that are ethereal and meditative. Some paintings rely on sharp geometric forms. Realistic portraits and still lifes feature Cortez’s unexpected color work, nodding to his abstract tendencies.
With both art and food, Cortez remains committed to the challenge of crafting something that didn’t exist before: “I’m inspired by the challenge to explore with uncertainty. I’m fascinated with the human mind and all its possibilities—to go beyond what we think is our limitation. I like seeing what I’m capable of.”
Life experiences from Nicaragua to Mexico to California to Greenville instilled in Cortez an expanded perspective that influences his food and his art. “Learning to adapt to different cultural situations brings you to the realization that all humans are similar; although we come from different backgrounds, we share the same goals, dreams, desires, expectations, and emotions,” he says. “Both food and art break barriers, transcend limitations, and bring people together.”
For more of his work, visit robertocortezfineart.com.
Photography by Will Crooks.