Rating the David Bowie Menu at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

By Mike Pomranz |

© Tim Mosenfelder / Corbis

This fall the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will offer fans like me a rare chance to combine two of my great loves: food and David Bowie. On September 23, the museum is opening a David Bowie retrospective featuring hundreds of objects from his personal archive. Additionally, in honor of the Thin White Duke’s exhibition, the museum’s Puck Café features a menu of “Bowie-inspired dishes.”

David Bowie was my first musical obsession. Even as a teenager, I had every Bowie album—a daunting task considering he had nearly 20 records and I was working as a part-time grocery bagger.

Though we’re still a couple weeks from the opening, that doesn’t mean we can’t start debating how well each food item matches its Bowie-referencing namesake. It’s the debate teenage Bowie megafan me and adult foodie me have always wanted…

1) Ziggy Stardust Schmaltz (assortment of cheeses: drunken goat cheese, crispy Parmigiano-Reggiano, Délice de Bourguignon, truffled cream cheese, pickled beech mushrooms, candied cashews and grilled French baguette).

In retrospect, some might consider glam rock to be a bit schmaltzy—but if so, Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s seminal glam rock classic, is only the finest of schmaltz. Therefore, a fancy cheese plate seems fitting.

VERDICT: Decent match

2) Thin White Duke (Wolfgang Puck flatbread, Fontina and mozzarella cheese, confit garlic, roasted tomatoes, cracked black pepper and arugula salad).

Essentially a white pizza, this is a very literal take on the concepts of “thin” and “white.” But any true Bowie fan knows part of what earned him the Thin White Duke nickname was his ongoing drug issues. Maybe they should have dressed it up with some powdered cauliflower. Either way, my guess is the Duke wouldn’t have the appetite for a dish like this. Or at least he wouldn’t be into this many carbs.

VERDICT: Decent match

3) Rebel Rebel Ruffage (baby romaine and frisée salad, fried Manchego and crispy carrot nest tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette).

“You’ve got your mother in a whirl; she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” But your mother is definitely sure this is just a salad. Possibly the hardest rocking Bowie riff ever deserves more than just some fried Manchego on greens!

VERDICT: Weak match

4) Modern Love (smoked tofu and grapefruit salad, avocado mousse, curried rice cakes, garnished with watercress tossed in a lime-and soy-vinaigrette).

A very modern dish indeed, melding a lot of fresh flavors. But fittingly, this salad also has an Asian flair. During the ’80s, Bowie took a fondness to Asian culture. In fact, “China Girl” was released on the same album as “Modern Love.” Bravo, MCA, for noticing this subtlety.

VERDICT: Very strong match

5) Starman Wings (boneless fried chicken, star anise and Sichuan spice, served with grilled pineapple).

According to the lyrics, the Starman would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” I don’t know if a boneless buffalo wing is going to blow any minds, but they sure will make us happy. And the star anise is a nice touch. Let all the children boogie.

VERDICT: Good match

6) The Goblin King Favors (trio of sliders: beef slider with aged cheddar and remoulade, chicken slider with bacon and onion jam, roasted tomato slider with eggplant and basil pesto veggie).

Truth be told, I haven’t seen Labyrinth since I was a kid, so I’m not quite sure what this is a reference to. Let’s just dance the magic dance instead, shall we?

VERDICT: Who knows

7) Cat People (yellowfin tuna tartare, sesame chips, ponzu and deviled quail egg).

“Cat People,” Bowie’s collaboration with producer Giorgio Moroder, was the theme song for the film of the same name, an erotic thriller about people who transform into leopards (or something). Though Bowie had little to do with the actual movie, I’m pretty sure a giant cat would like tuna.

VERDICT: Good match

8) Under Pressure (grilled hanger steak, fingerling potato salad, charred scallions, truffle and balsamic gastrique)

“Under Pressure” was a collaboration of two of the greatest vocalist ever: Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Grilled hanger steak? Even from a literal translation, I don’t see this one. Where’s the pressure cooker? Maybe it’s over my head.

VERDICT: Weak match

9) Golden Years (seared diver scallops, crispy polenta cake, yellow tomato jam and shellfish consommé).

A sophisticated dish with, one can only assume, a fitting golden hue from the polenta, yellow tomato and consommé. “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere.” You’re about to eat some good grub.

VERDICT: Perfect match!

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