The restaurant in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibits creations on loan from chefs around the world, recreated by Roux Scholar Ian Scaramuzza. Kerstin Kühn reports
When in the spring of 2016 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reopened as the largest of its kind in the US following a three-year, $305m (£231m) redesign, it had a lot to live up to. But, widely received as a triumph, it not just exceeded art and architecture lovers' expectations, it also delivered on the culinary front.
Partnering with three-Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee of Benu, SFMOMA created a new restaurant, In Situ, named after the Latin phrase describing a work of art embedded in its original place. But the restaurant is the opposite of its namesake, acting as a gallery of temporarily loaned ‘artworks' by showcasing dishes from chefs around the world. "I see this project as an extension of the museum's larger mission: to present great works worldwide and make them accessible for greater public engagement," Lee said before the launch.
He contacted the most creative chefs around the globe, asking them to supply a recipe for a signature dish. Before In Situ even opened, Lee had amassed more than 100 recipes.
Overseeing the kitchen is Scottish-born chef Ian Scaramuzza, the 2015 Roux Scholar, who spent his winning stage at Benu. Having previously worked with Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and as the head chef at Claude Bosi's Hibiscus in London, the young chef quickly impressed Lee and his group executive chef Brandon Rodgers, who not only called on his help with the research and development for In Situ but also sponsored him a green card so he could become its head chef.
Dishes are shuffled on and off the 18-item menu, which is divided into small, medium and large plates as well as desserts. You might find Massimo Bottura's Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart one week, and Alice Waters' Meyer lemon ice-cream and sherbet the next.
e kitchen at In Situ is designed to be more flexible than most, with the brigade made up of 10 chefs de partie and four sous chefs as well as the head chef. There are no commis chefs or stagiers, nor are there dedicated sections. Instead, four to five dishes are prepared in individual work areas with the equipment required for each recipe. What's more, each chef de partie also serves as a waiter on a rotating weekly shift. "This encourages teamwork and means the chefs learn new skills," Scaramuzza says.
The day The Caterer visits, lunch begins with a caramelised carrot soup with coconut foam from scientist-turned-chef Nathan Myhrvold's cooking encyclopaedia Modernist Cuisine. "The recipe for the soup comes from the book, but he sent us the coconut foam and spice mix separately, which make it more of a complete dish," says Scaramuzza.
t, we visit Nottingham, by way of Sat Bains' chicken liver muesli. "I feel humbled to have one of my dishes on In Situ's menu," says Bains. "I heard Thomas Keller ate it just a few weeks ago there, which is amazing."
The meal then takes us to France, with a dish from culinary legend Michel Guérard, whose summery, warm tomato and basil tart seems as relevant here as it did when it was first invented in 1981. "We make our own puff pastry, which takes a few days, but each tart is finished Á la minute," Scaramuzza says. This is followed by Tim Raue's signature wasabi lobster with mango jelly and Thai vinaigrette. "Again, the recipe came from his book, but he added two wasabi marshmallow stars to point to his Michelin rating," says Scaramuzza.
t all of the dishes are on loan and the menu also features dishes by Scaramuzza. For instance, a dessert that takes inspiration from the museum's René Magritte exhibit: a green apple made from white chocolate filled with calvados mousse, a nod to the artist's motif.
A world-renowned art institution in a progressive place like San Francisco needs a restaurant that reflects the city's creative ingenuity, and In Situ has achieved just that. "By avoiding originality," says Pete Wells of the New York Times, "In Situ is the most original new restaurant in the country."
From the menu
•Summer vegetable tempura, basil and sesame bean dip by In Situ $12 (£9)
•Summery warm tomato and basil tart by Michel Guérard, Les Prés d'Eugénie, Eugénie-les-Bains, France, 1981 $18 (£13.50)
•Scallop carpaccio and oyster gazpacho by Christophe Hardiquest, Bon Bon, Brussels, Belgium, 2009 $24 (£18)
•'Lamb Carrot', braised lamb with sheep's milk yogurt by Clare Smyth, Core, London, 2017 $28 (£21)
•Beef lettuce cups with fresh oyster sauce, jasmine rice and beef boullion by In Situ $28 (£21)
•Jasper Hill Farm cheesecake, hazelnut, white chocolate, cookie by Albert AdriÁ , Tickets, Barcelona, Spain, 2015 $22 (£16.50)
•"Ame" - Sound of Rain - grapes, saké, citrus by Hajime Yoneda, Hajime, Osaka, Japan, 2013 $14 (£10.50)
In Situ, SFMOMA, 151 3rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, US
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