Sunday, 2 March 2014

TASTE FOR ART: THE MENUS OF THE SEATTLE ART MUSEUM

BY: PROFESSOR IRINA MIHALACHE

Besides being an innovative and exciting museum, Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle houses a restaurant, TASTE, which is known for translating temporary exhibitions on topics ranging from Peruvian Art to Picasso into delicious and reflective menus.  Today, I wish to share with you such a culinary endeavor and contemplate a little bit on the role of food in the museum restaurant. And, of course, remind you that museums are becoming more and more…palatable (literally)! Using taste in the museum to understand history, art and culture is as challenging as it is rewarding, so give it a try (or two)!


TASTE’s most recent culinary creation accompanied an exhibition of Peruvian art, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, on view at SAM until January 2014.  In a blog entry title ‘A Northwest Twist on Peruvian Cuisine’, the chefs explained their Peruvian-inspired culinary initiative, ‘staying true to the practice of using fresh and local ingredients, the restaurant and catering menus will offer more than 15 new entrees, desserts and cocktails and give our guests a good taste of Peru’s hearty cuisine…served with a northwest twist’. Therefore, the new menu fits into the larger ideological frameworks of the restaurant, which is deeply rooted in a favorite foodie discourse and practice – ethical eating.  The restaurant is not promising an authentic Peruvian experience, willing to sacrifice the “ethnic” discourse in favor of a political engagement with proper production and consumption practices.  

 On the TASTE blog, visitors can find a brief introduction to the exhibition written by the two art curators who developed the show, stating that ‘taking a novel approach to Peruvian art, the thematic organization reveals cross currents of ideas and artistry through time and the symbolic role that art plays in the construction of cultural identity’. In this description, the voice of the museum represented by the curators, points out the innovative take on Peruvian culture, interpreting the exhibition for the visitors as a thematic and cross-cultural display of ‘superb works’. The contact becomes the theme of the menu, which promises ‘a good taste of Peru’s hearty cuisine…served with a northwest twist’.  This preface to the food is an interpretive gesture, solidifying the connection between the art and the food. At the same time, statements by curators, who represent the more authoritative and traditional voice of the institutions, legitimate the menu as a gustatory journey through the exhibition.  

http://www.seattleweekly.com/promo/freestuff/948963-129/peru-art-kingdoms-moon-2013-museum

Heightening the connection between art and food, each dish is presented as the unique creation of one of the chefs of the TASTE team.  For example, ‘inspired by the colors and seasonings of Peruvian cuisine, Chef Craig chose dishes from coastal and inland regions including seafood, steak and potatoes, all complimented with our traditional hearty Northwest Autumn flavors’. The chef’s authorship becomes visible in dishes such as ‘Butter poached gulf prawns | soft polenta, achiote & butternut squash’, ‘Grilled steak & braised potatoes | lacinato kale, piquillo peppers & chimichurri’ and ‘roasted chanterelles red quinoa salad | smoked curado, poached bing cherries, fried sage’. Pastry chef Will Fausser, however, ‘was excited to find inspiration outside the TASTE restaurant local ingredient list and extend his research into Latin America’, which resulted in ‘Alfajores Doughnuts | spices muscovado & chocolate dipping sauce duo’. Lastly, ‘Pisco is considered Peru’s national spirit and Bartender Terrance Burton brings to TASTE the national cocktail – the Pisco Sour’ reinvented into ‘Piscanna sour’, a drink which includes a few creative additions such as Banane de Brazil and Aztec Chocolate Bitters.

This menu represents an interpretation of Peruvian art and culture for an audience who identifies with innovation, creativity, experimentation and, most importantly, a strong ethos of the local.  

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