HomeAlice Waters helps a museum that caters to art lovers

Alice Waters helps a museum that caters to art lovers

LOS ANGELES — With the Hammer Museum emerging from pandemic lockdown last year, it has amassed a batch of the big names it hopes will draw crowds to their campus down the street from the University of California, Los Angeles: Cézanne, Manet, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec. and water.

This will be Alice Waters, the owner of the restaurant who founded in Banes in Berkeley 50 years ago and continues to help define modern California cuisine. She lends her name and reputation to Lulu, a new restaurant she helped open on Hammer’s Courtyard, the first time she has closely associated herself with a restaurant since opening Chez Panisse.

“It’s going to bring people who wouldn’t be museum visitors into the museum,” said Ann Philbin, executive director of Hammer, who hired Ms Waters for the project. “It’s about cross-pollination of the masses.”

The Hammer, affiliated with UCLA, is the latest in a long line of art establishments collaborating with big-name chefs in hopes of expanding their audience. And Mrs. Waters is the latest in a long line of famous restaurants (for the record, she hates the phrase, preferring French “restaurants”) to lend her name to a cultural establishment.

But as institutions like Hammer face the challenges of trying to get out of the pandemic, these kinds of partnerships, once a fun stimulus to clients spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert hall, are taking on new importance.

The past twenty months have shown that an opera, a play or an art gallery can be enjoyed from the living room. Fine dining, on the other hand, can’t be streamed, and museums see evidence of this in the ranks of people clamoring for a table in their fine dining restaurants.

People told me they came because they heard about the restaurant, and when they passed the museum lobby, they were excited about what they saw and came back, Gary Tintero Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston who opened Le Gardiner, ambitious and famous, a French restaurant this year with a menu overseen by Alain Verzeroli, a A Michelin starred chef.

Gone are the days when museums outsource restaurants to soft-food companies that would serve up bland cafeteria fare — think white and plastic-wrapped tuna sandwiches.

In New York, restaurateur Danny Meyer Opened the conversation At the Museum of Modern Art for more than 15 years, convinced that high culture and fine dining share some of the same clients and can work under the same roof.

“At best we’re playing a supporting actor,” Mr. Meyer said in an interview. “But we hope to be a great version of the supporting cast.”

Restaurants and entertainment have always been in unspoken competition for discretionary consumer spending. And if stats are any guide, Americans like to eat good food more than they like a trip to a museum, an opera, a theater, or a concert. The average family spent $3,526 in restaurants in 2019, the year before the pandemic, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, About $500 more than they spent on a broad category of entertainment.

So these days, one of the first calls for any new museum or concert hall was the owner of a well-known restaurateur. Rembrandt is fine. Michelin could be better.

in recently opened The Academy of Motion Picture Museum in Los AngelesOne of the main draws was the Fanny’s restaurant on the ground floor that he runs Bill Chet One of the biggest restaurant names in Los Angeles, which helped create famous dining spots like Republic And Monster. “It was packed from the start,” said Bill Kramer, the museum’s director.

Museum restaurants, which were an afterthought tucked away in basements or corners, often now have their own separate entrances, so you can work even when the museum is closed. Mr. Meyer recalls that The Modern, in New York, was a pioneer in this regard. “Before that, the restaurant was always seen as a convenience for museum-goers only,” he said.

Before the pandemic, he rented the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco Duki Hong, an experienced chef at Momofuku Noodle Bar and Jean-Georges in New York, to work with Boba Guys, a famous San Francisco bubble milk tea seller, at the new restaurant. Sunday at the Museum.

“The Museum of Asian Art could have chosen a cafeteria account,” said Andrew Chow, co-founder of Boba Guys. “They wanted to try something different. Food is culture.”

The lunch crowd doubled before the pandemic shutdown, and now it’s slowly making a comeback.

“We started looking for a new chef for our café as part of a multi-year transformation project in 2017,” said Jay Chou, Executive Director of the Asian Art Museum. “Part of that, of course, was increasing our audience.”

Similar collaborations are underway in Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Music Center, home of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But few have sparked as much interest as Alice Waters in Hammer.

For Ms Waters, 77, the decision to exit Berkeley is a bit of a reinvention and a bit of a risk. Despite all her acclaim, Chez Panisse criticism withers In 2019 from Soleil Ho, a food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, who argued that her approach is outdated. “Chez Panisse pushed the culinary conversations in this country forward, but then it seems she’s been out of business since then,” she wrote.

Ms. Waters seems to realize that her reputation is affected in both directions.

She said recently while drinking a glass pitcher of mint tea in Lulu, which is named after the late Lulu Berod, a Provençal wine master and chef who was her mentor. “I want them to know they can always eat something simple, seasonal, and fun.”

Ms. Waters designed the restaurant and hired David Tanis, a longtime collaborator at Chez Panisse, who writes Monthly column For the food section of the New York Times, as a chef. I personally supervised many of the details, right down to deciding what type of wood (from the Buna tree) to use for the tables scattered around Lulu’s spacious balcony.

Mr. Tanis said they expect most of the early diners to be museum goers. But he said he and Waters were confident that the restaurant, given its aspiration and origin, would attract people throughout Los Angeles, a city known for its vibrant and adventurous dining scene, as well as faculty, staff and students from the university, within a 10-minute walk.

“People who come here as a destination — and people who visit the museum and want to have lunch,” he said. “We don’t aim for fine dining. It wouldn’t be fancy.”

His menu features a $45 lunch menu and three fixed-course dishes that began, in one recent example, with a fennel, radish, and watercress salad, followed by a stew of rock cod, Dungeness crab, and oysters, and finished with an olive oil and walnut bun with pomegranate. Dinner service will start next year.

The restaurant is part of an ambitious renovation project underway in Hammer, which announced Capital campaign 180 million dollars In 2018 to expand the exhibition space and build its endowment. Mrs. Philbin, who had been eating regularly at Chez Panisse, turned to Mrs. Waters for advice.

“I know you know cooks all over the country,” Mrs. Philbin remembers telling her. “She came up with two names and said, ‘I will reach out and talk to them. Two weeks later, I got an email from her saying, ‘I haven’t reached out to them yet because I have another idea: I’m thinking maybe me.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’

Mrs. Waters always declined when she asked other museums if she could open a restaurant. “It’s a matter of my desire to live a civilized life,” she said. “And that’s not on a plane to my restaurant in New York.”

This looked different. Los Angeles is not far from Berkeley, and she has a daughter who lives here.

This cooperation was not always successful. An attempt to open a fine dining restaurant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has been abandoned. Meyer’s Whitney’s Restaurant in New York, Untitled, has not survived the pandemic, turning into a coffee shop.

But it has also become a source of hope for enterprises.

The Los Angeles Music Center has turned to Ray Garcia, chef of the now-closed Broken Spanish restaurant, to open a restaurant in Walt Disney Concert Hall. “A well-known chef will bring more people to campus,” said Rachel Moore, president of the Music Center.

Mr. Garcia said the collaboration would be a boon for the center – and the restaurant.

“The high tide lifts all boats,” he said. “Everyone can win by appearing.”