One of my problems with museums is that I can't eat popcorn while I look around. Because without food, everything bores me pretty fast. Maite Gomez-Rejón, a classically trained private chef who has cooked for bands like Aerosmith and KISS, has discovered that there are a lot of people like me. People who can appreciate art in both a historical and a social contextif you show us how wonderful or weird the food was back then, and afterward, teach us how to make it.
"I don't even remember high-school history. I skipped school a lot," says Gomez-Rejón, 40. Despite the missed classes, she went on to earn an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later worked in the education departments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Getty Villa in L.A. I meet up with her outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, waiting for the 12 people who have each paid $100 for her museum tour and cooking class on Mesoamerican art. Through the company she founded three years ago, ArtBites, Gomez-Rejón runs tours like this in L.A. and, most recently, Philadelphia and New York. She has taught a class on baking 19th-century Parisian pastries after a tour of French Impressionist paintings, and another on making recipes inspired by ancient Greek dishes after checking out Greek and Roman antiquities. She has led classes in a compact kitchen near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and made do with hot plates and toaster ovens in an art studioturnedcooking space at the Getty Villa, calling the building's engineers every time she blew a fuse.
Gomez-Rejón at the Met in NYC. © Cary Conover.
This class on Mesoamerican art is made up of mostly women, including two who have brought their teenage kids. We head upstairs to the permanent collection Art from the Ancient Americas, where Gomez-Rejón stops in front of a case holding a small Aztec sculpture of a mana priest for the god of springtime and the renewal of vegetationmade between 1400 and 1521. She asks us to examine it, which I pretend to do, as on every art tour I've ever been on. She points out the deep-set eyes and mouth, the floppy hand and the decorative stripes on the back, which, she explains, are due to the fact that this priest is robed in the flayed skin of a dude he sacrificed. Skin he might wear for up to 20 days. Also, worshippers would stew the thighs of the human sacrifice and eat them. I do not know about the other people on the tour, but this is not making me hungry.