Pastry chef’s untapped painting talent takes time to rise to inspiration

Story and Photo by Christina Heintzelman

Elide Hower is well-known in the area as the artistic pastry chef and co-owner, along with Qui Qui Musarra and Staci Basore, of the trifecta of restaurants: Rubicon, Mangia Qui, and Suba, all located on 3rd and North streets in Harrisburg. Hower is also an accomplished artist whose work is exhibited  not only in Mangia Qui, but also in private collections all around the United States.  

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a family of six children, Hower says her siblings were all very creative in painting and drawing. She did not feel the same type of creativity, and decided to spend time with her grandmother in Bom Sucesso — meaning good luck — a very rustic village with no running water. Her grandmother was a fantastic cook and baker, who helped to cultivate Hower’s first creative love.

“I remember the windows in my grandmother’s small home opened out into the street and we used these to create a walk-up window to sell the baked goods that we prepared,” Hower says. “I was very shy, so this became a good way for me to talk to people for short periods of time.”

“By learning to bake, I learned the process of creativity,” Hower said. “I could look at a recipe or a picture of a baked good and think about what would happen if I changed a few ingredients or the look of the final product to make it truly my own.”

Fast forward to 1984 in Hower’s life, and she and her 3-year-old daughter are now living in New York City. “I traveled to the United States for vacations and felt drawn to New York City because it has the same intensity as Rio, and I had already made a few friends along the way,” she said. “I stayed for three years, working as a personal chef for a family.”

By 1987, Hower was ready to return to the countryside, and moved to Harrisburg. “After Rio and New York City, Harrisburg felt like the countryside and I knew I had found a peaceful and loving place to put down roots.” She started her own business called “Break Time,” which consisted of her delicious homemade foods packed into a truck and delivered to various businesses for breakfasts and lunches.

In 2001, she began working for Mangia Qui, which had recently opened, and upon looking at the large available walls, decided that now might be the time to work on her painting skills. 

“I went to Dick Blick in Lemoyne, and since I had no idea what I needed I bought everything — acrylics, oils, watercolors, pens, and huge pieces of canvas as I knew I wanted to work big. I then began to think about what I would use for my inspiration and upon thinking I realized that I wanted to draw on my past and paint my memories.” 

She also drew on her baking skills and how she made desserts into her own creations by applying the same idea to painting: “I see a scene of something that appeals to me and I give it my own interpretation; the scene is a reference, but I make it my own creation which is unique to me.”

Hower describes her art genre as Impressionist. “Many of my paintings have houses in them because for me a house, a home represents life and something concrete, life starts in the home, and I believe it can help determine destiny. Different houses can also represent different personalities.” 

Colors are important to Hower because she believes that she can express feelings and emotions better by using colors rather than shapes to create inviting, calm, and peaceful sentiments. Hower never paints full faces in her pieces as she feels that the emotions normally expressed in the face will be expressed fully in the colors, setting, and pose of the figure. She thinks emotions are important in the purchase of art, too, and that art should not be purchased solely to decorate a space, but rather should create an emotional tie between the purchaser and the piece of art. 

Hower uses this same personal creativity to prepare the delicious desserts for her restaurants. “They are simple desserts but definitely my own creation. For me, the taste is everything; it can have a simple appearance but at the same time be the most delicious dessert you have ever tasted.” 

Her experience as a pastry chef and artist has also informed her management style with staff at the restaurants. Along with the other two owners, she helped create a space for waitstaff, cooks, and bartenders to learn about the restaurant business through all its phases, providing them with training to move forward with experience and confidence. The efforts of these three women business owners come totally from the heart.

Hower’s business acumen along with her artist sentiment informs her vision for art in Harrisburg. “We live in an area with many local artists, and it is important for not only businesses, but also the city, to support and give exposure to these artists through exhibits, fairs, and pop-up galleries. Third in The Burg has been a great way to help artists get the necessary exposure for sales, but we need more to happen to grow and sustain our local artisans through difficult times.”

Hower’s art is currently exhibited on the walls of Mangia Qui restaurant.