A fusion of art and cuisine, the Culinaria dinner series at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in Portland, Oregon, is probably the most compelling way to enrich your food and art experience when visiting a museum. Disjecta is known for its extensive public and education programs; in particular, its Curator-in-Residence and Portland Biennale that kicked off in 2010 and had its late edition in July 2016.
The founders of Culinaria Dinner Series went far beyond what is usually referred to as “food experience in museums”. Call it a response to common museum café setting. The centerpiece of Culinaria is an interplay of art and haute cuisine. The series brings together both food lovers and those who really appreciate art and open to experience it from a different perspective. We were curious how the idea of merging food and art evolved and if and how it affected the visitors. Museeum talked with the Disjecta team and Culinaria founders, Ryan Burghard (Disjecta Board Member and Progenitor of Culinaria), Paul Arnold (Culinaria Director) and Bryan Suereth (Executive Director and Collaborator).
Burghard:When we started the program we had the idea of bringing two worlds together; Portland’s acclaimed culinary world and its burgeoning contemporary art scene. So it seemed natural that our conversation would grow from there. At the time, Paul was chef de cuisine at Jamison and I had been working on the board of directors at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center for some time, but neither of us had a very strong understanding of the other’s field and it was the concept of Culinaria that brought us together. A mutual friend put us in contact with one another and over several meetings, we developed a relationship and a framework for the program that we felt would represent the arts and the culinary world on equal footing.
Beyond that, the merger of food and art presented a lot of logistical questions, and the most challenging was how do you convert a gallery into both a dinner table and a kitchen without compromising the viewing experience. That’s been a fun challenge and something we address differently with every dinner.
We also knew we needed to work with chef’s who would see these challenges as an opportunity rather than a hindrance and we were fortunate to have Doug Adams of Imperial sign on as our inaugural chef. We had few resources we could offer at that time, but Doug responded with enthusiasm and creativity and it was the first sign that our idea might have legs.
Suereth:Initially, Culinaria appeared in response to the reflective process of making art and making food—they are such similar endeavors. Our visitor is definitely a food lover with a sense of adventure—Culinaria chefs tend to work outside the box here. For them, like the artists we exhibit, it’s a chance to push boundaries. - See more at: http://museeum.net/article/223/culinaria-dinner-series.html#sthash.qwzXqdaq.dpuf
Burghard:The question I routinely ask myself is ‘how can art and our programming at Disjecta appeal to new audiences? Art can be seen as abstruse, but our local culinary scene was already bridging a similar gap, making artisanal products and challenging menus commonplace in Portland. Food has a great ability to democratize and appeal to a broad audience, and I wanted to see the same thing happen with the arts.
At a Culinaria dinner, you aren’t just looking at the art, you’re a part of it—both figuratively and literally. Each dinner takes place inside the gallery, among the exhibition, but the food is also being treated as an art form. Our chef’s are allowed to develop unique menus and each dinner is prefaced with a walking tour of the exhibition hosted by Disjecta’s Curator-in-Residence and the artists, who then sit down as guests at the table. It’s an immersive experience and one that I hope broadens the appeal and accessibility of contemporary art.
When we started the program we had the idea of bringing two worlds together; Portland’s acclaimed culinary world and its burgeoning contemporary art scene.
The admission fee ranges from $100 to $275 depending on the number of dinners you would like to attend. The seating is limited to 40 guests, so keep in mind that the tickets go fast and you should reserve your seats in advance. According to Ryan Burghard, the dinners are meant to be “inclusive while still retaining an intimate atmosphere.”
If you are still hesitant whether to attend Culinaria series or not – here are some picks from the menu by Johanna Ware: Netart Bay Oysters with vinaigrette sauce, lime and cilantro, bulgogi flanken ribs with kimchi puree. Sounds delicious, right?
Burghard: Our choice in chef is directly related to the exhibition and we try to facilitate as much collaboration between the two as possible without dictating how they respond. Because Culinaria was designed to support Disjecta’s Curator-in-Residence (CIR) program, we also wanted each dinner to reflect a similar mission and respond to the programming of each new curator. When Disjecta established CIR (Curator-in-Residency) our mission was to support emerging local and national curatorial talent. We choose chefs with a similar thought in process mind. We want to highlight the talents of Portland’s established, well-known names while also providing a platform for emerging new talent and I think that we’ve been mindful in balancing this throughout each season.
Arnold: Anyone can put together a tasting menu, but finding a chef that can pull off a menu unlike anything else available in the city, inspired by contemporary art, with no kitchen, only for love of the art - that presents a different dynamic. We strive to pick chefs that compliment the artists, though the beauty of the CIR program is we never know what to expect or how a chef will respond. When we reach out to a chef, we consider their entire repertoire - we want someone who is talented but also willing to take chances. We want these dinners to be a blank canvas for the chef just as much as each exhibition is for the artist …it’s a platform where contemporary and culinary artists are encouraged to express their vision.
Dinners as a blank canvas - no need to say more. Check out Disjecta website and get in touch with this amazing team if you are willing to be a part of this unique event.