Kemper Museum’s 2020 Artist Dinner Series Launches with Fanfare

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Chef Mullins holds court. (Photo credits: Kenny Johnson)

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is one of only a handful of museums in the Midwest which features a gourmet restaurant tucked away inside its walls. So when Café Sebastienne’s culinary team unveiled an Artist Dinner Series last year, it soon became one of the hottest tickets in town. Tickets went so quickly it even caught the museum a bit off guard. Seems the only thing cultural aficionados like more than appreciating art is enjoying a perfectly executed, intimate, epicurean meal designed around it.

The brilliant oranges featured in this dish perfectly mirrored the color appearing in artist Virginia Jaramillo’s 1975 painting, Principle of Equivalence.

Kemper Museum’s Executive Chef Rick Mullins saw it as the perfect opportunity to meld his well-honed culinary skills into an artful (and art-filled) guest experience. Mullins brainstormed with each participating artist to come up with the perfect meal—one that was inspired by his or her background, culture, and the artist’s occasional whimsy. Then he took it to his team and brainstormed culinary concepts. “We all start in the kitchen and dish—so to speak,” says Mullins. “We removed the hierarchy and began compiling ideas. Once we apply the artists’ suggestions, it becomes a collaborative effort.”

The final course of the 2019 Dinner celebrating Hew Locke featured a classic Black Cake, paying homage to the artist’s childhood home of Guyana.

Last year, Mullins found the experience to be more of a challenge than he thought. “It wasn’t easy at first, but then we became more expressive as to how we honored the artists’ food traditions,” he says. Mullins derived inspiration wherever he could get it—everything from a particular color in a specific painting all the way to an artist’s heritage.

In 2020, however, Mullins and team are throwing any preconceived notions out the window. “This year, there are no rules,” he says, laughing. “I’m digging a little deeper this year. I want to be inspired not only by artists’ stories and their lives, but also their art. Last year went really well, but I think our dishes are going to be even more expressive this year. It’s nice to move into this new series with a higher degree of comfort.”

Café Sebastienne’s Courtyard serves as the perfect location.

The first event this year will take place Friday, February 7th and coincides with the debut of artist Summer Wheat’s exhibition, Blood, Sweat and Tears. “The two of us have already started a dialogue,” says Mullins. “We’re going to abandon our ‘coursed menu’ and make it interactive. We want people interacting with each other and the food.” When we asked for specifics, Mullins was mum. He’s not quite ready to unveil all the tricks of his trade. As with every artist on tap this year, Wheat will be on hand to explain her artistic process before the meal during a scheduled “Artist Talk”—which is free and open to the public. Artist Dinner Series ticketholders will then move into Café Sebastienne’s courtyard for the dinner. Handcrafted cocktails and creative wine pairings are included with the dinners.

“We’re going to piggyback on Wheat’s process. There’s going to be a lot of color involved—which is not typical of February. We’re selecting pickles, ferments, preserves. We’re looking at different types of squash. There may or may not be a whole chicken and whole fish involved.” Mullins mentions Wheat’s painting The Beekeeper. “You can rest assured we will have plenty of honey involved—dehydrated or infused with flavors.”

Specialty cocktails accompany each meal, with non-alcoholic versions always available.

Mullins considered 2019’s Artist Dinner Series a huge hit, but there was a still a learning curve. “At first we were a little tame, but then we became bolder—using ingredients and applications that people aren’t familiar with,” Mullins says. “We’re always trying to do our absolute best. But this year, we’re going to be more expressive.”

With only 60 seats available this year, it’s certain tickets will be snapped up. “Given that it’s so intimate, we’ll make it as personalized as possible. This is an experience,” says Mullins, who is making a resolution to align himself with as many creative folks as possible in 2020. “My goal in the coming year is to build deeper relationships with artists. Art, music, food—they all work together. There should be a dialogue happening between us. I want to build lasting relationships with more creative people.”

Celebrating contemporary art with friends, new and old, at Kansas City’s newest culinary event series!

For more information about ordering tickets to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art 2020 Artist Dinner Series, click here.

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