Food has always had a place in art. Consider Caravaggio's Bacchus, surrounded by a pile of luscious fruit, or even Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. But lately the relationship between food and art has taken a new turn: a number of museums are opening serious restaurants. The trend started several years ago at such places as Sette MoMA in The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and Patinette (a star turn by chef Joachim Splichal of Patina) at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Today even museums in smaller cities like Denver and Santa Fe are bringing in top culinary talent.
The reasons are apparent: museums are always trying to come up with new ways to lure patrons, and a wonderful restaurant will draw both art lovers who like food and food lovers who like art. In large museums, where it can take hours to view the various collections, a good restaurant is a boon to hungry visitors who don't want to leave the building for a meal but who refuse to settle for tuna on a soggy croissant or some other halfhearted effort from an institutional cafeteria.
Chefs have their own reasons for choosing to open restaurants in museums. "We can take fresh inspiration from each exhibition," explains Jim Dodge, the consulting chef at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who oversees the ambitious Fine Arts Restaurant. "We can pass that along to the museum visitors and give them a more complete aesthetic experience." On the following pages are profiles of four exciting new museum restaurants, along with a signature recipe from each that proves, once again, that chefs are artists too.