A woman riding on horseback, the Elizabeth Taylor-starred movie Giant, Christmas trees, a Nativity, red-and-white-gingham picnic tablecloths, an Irishman in a kilt reciting poetry and a 10-course meal with wine pairings seem to have nothing in common. But last month, all of these elements played a part in an elaborately orchestrated meal by artist Mary Ellen Carroll, the first in a unique dinner series where art and dining meet in the form of collaborative performance art.
As part of Feast: A Dinner Series, five such meals have been planned, one scheduled each month leading up to the debut of the September exhibit “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art” at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston.
“There are lots of young, contemporary artists in this show from all over the world, but there are also five artists who are based in Houston, and we’ve asked each of these artists to work with the chef to create a unique experience based on what they do in their artistic practice,” says Claudia Schmuckli, the museum’s director and chief curator. “They have conceptually framed the meal. They have all come up with an idea that will dictate how the evening will unfold and then the chefs have taken this idea and interpreted it in their unique culinary way.”
Thus, each dinner will be a one-of-a-kind theatrical performance in the art of hospitality. Hosted in the private homes of Houston art collectors and Blaffer patrons, the meals will express the specific artist’s art and vision, be it through props, color, movement, sound, smell or lighting.
For the dining component of the evening, each artist will collaborate with Philip Speer, the culinary director of noted Japanese restaurant Uchi, and his chef de cuisine, Kaz Edwards. Speer and Edwards will create a multi-course menu with wine pairings by sommelier David Keck that interpret the artist’s vision via taste, texture, sight and concept, all with signature Uchi flair — multi-layered, sensory-provoking dishes featuring avant-garde textures and flavors.
As for the May 18 installment, Mike Loya will host and multi-disciplinary artist Lynne McCabe will be showcased. McCabe is known for her performance-, text- and video-based works that are fueled by collaboration and conversation, so it will be fascinating to see how her pieces harmonize with the edible works of art coming from the kitchen.
At April’s Carroll dinner, held in a majestic Mexican hacienda in the heart of Houston’s Memorial area, the artistic framework was “Houston’s past, Houston’s present and Houston’s future.” In an essay describing her concept for the evening, she predicated, “Everything has been considered — be it reality or in fiction, it does not really matter, but what does matter is the eating and why you are here.”
Diners that night were enthralled not just with the beautifully appointed surroundings and artistic elements that linked back to Houston, but with ingenious menu creations such as a lingonberry pâte de fruit topped with cherry bomb radish and turkey skin and an egg yolk custard served inside a broken egg shell and covered with smoked ikura (salmon roe), crispy boquerónes (filleted anchovies soaked in vinegar) and compressed Asian pear.
“Hopefully,” Schmuckli says, “what you’re going to experience is this unique blend of an idea that a visual artist comes up with, a concept that defines the evening, and how a great culinary chef who’s an artist himself will interpret these concepts and make them his own through the food.”
After Saturday’s event, there will be three remaining Feasts in the series:
- June 22: Host Leslie and Mark Hull and artist Miguel Amat
- July 20: Hosts Jo and Jim Furr and artists The Art Guys
- August 17: Hosts Jim Petersen and Lindsey George and artist Gabriel Martinez
All the dinners are limited to 30 seats, and cost $500. The specific locations of the meals will only be released to confirmed attendees. The menus will be kept secret until the evening the event takes place. These dinners are being held in lieu of a fund-raising gala, with proceeds benefitting the museum.
Photos courtesy of Chris Brown and Philip Speer