The edible canvas

The DMA's Seventeen-Seventeen is an artistic masterpiece

I was in New York two weeks ago, and I saw an extraordinary work of art, of fanaticism--and, the artist claimed, of love.

Liza Lou, a young artist from the West Coast had entirely covered a life-size kitchen in tiny, brilliantly colored beads. Not one inch was left bare. Picture it carefully: floor tiles covered in patterns of beads, wood grain on the cabinets covered with beads, table and chair covered with little shiny bugle beads. The toaster and its cord were beaded; the newspaper on the table was beaded; the oven rack, the pie in the oven, the mixer and the cookbook, the suds in the sink, the Comet can, the broom, the boxes of cereal, everything was beaded.

It was an outrageous, almost frightening sight, because besides being beautiful, it perfectly captured the numbing tedium of the repetitive jobs that are done in every kitchen, and the cumulation of thousands of tiny menial tasks that add up to culinary accomplishment.

Location Info


Seventeen Seventeen

1717 N. Harwood St., 2
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Those tasks in cooking are called la technique. But cooking is not about producing a single masterpiece by whatever laborious means.

Jacques Pepin was in Dallas recently to promote his new cookbook, and in his class at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, where a hundred people paid plenty to drink wine and watch Jacques chop vegetables and bone out chickens, he held forth on la technique, his area of particular brilliance. The art of cooking defined by Jacques Pepin: It is about producing a masterpiece over and over and over again, the same dish plate after plate, night after night. You must be able to produce consistent results but with inconsistent ingredients, by using the same process, the correct techniques. The real art is in the process of creation.

Cooking is an art, one of those peculiarly human things, like dance and theater and painting, that we need for nourishment as much as we need protein and vitamins. So it seems appropriate that the new restaurant in the Dallas Museum of Art, called Seventeen-Seventeen after the building's address, should serve forth the highest culinary art. In fact, to me, it makes aesthetic sense for every museum--since they must serve food of some kind, art appreciation being hungry work--to serve food as fine as the art.

The new restaurant is the creation of dan’, DMA's in-house catering company. It's right where the old restaurant used to be (can't let a good grease-trap go to waste) but a long way from the soup buffet to Seventeen-Seventeen. The original buffet, just inexpensive soup and sandwiches served up by volunteers, was a holdover from Fair Park. Then the museum hired its own chef and waiters, went into the restaurant business, and, as Ginger Reeder, director of marketing and visitor services, tells it, "We lost our shirt."

When Clay Johnson came in (from Horchow) as deputy director of the museum, he had fled the food business, and dan’ won the museum's new catering contract. Now dan’ handles both restaurants and the liquor license, paying the museum a fee plus a percentage over a base amount of catering and restaurant sales. (That's right, the arrangement is just like a mall has with its tenants.)

Then Coca-Coca Bottling Co., in the person of Robert Hoffman (the man behind the Dallas Plan and the Arboretum), bought dan’ and Hoffman had a bigger idea: Why not have a fabulous restaurant in the museum? It just took cash to cook it up. A big-name chef was needed, so Kent Rathbun, a Mansion alumnus, was hired away from the Omni Melrose. When Hoffman and the museum split the cost of renovating the kitchen and restaurant, they were in business.

"Get a bunch of retail-marketing people in the museum business, and that's what happens," Reeder says. She is counting on the restaurant to attract new and regular visitors to the museum:If the art doesn't bring 'em, the margaritas will. It seems like original thinking, but in a way, it's the same idea Ray Nasher had for NorthPark all those years ago. Make it more than a shopping center; make it a "town center." If they come to have their blood pressure checked at the Health Fair in the mall, they'll probably end up buying some khaki pants.

And it's so very Dallas. Show us chic dining or new shopping, and we'll follow you anywhere. Well, don't look for a Neiman's boutique next to the museum's Gateway Gallery, but there will be cooking classes in the sculpture garden, high-dollar wine dinners in the restaurant, and picnics at special events. Seventeen-Seventeen will be open during outdoor jazz concerts (patio seating for those who like it live and corner-room seating for those who prefer piped in music and cool air). And eventually Seventeen-Seventeen will be open for dinner as well as lunch and brunch. You could be a regular patron of Seventeen-Seventeen and never see any art at all.

I previewed Seventeen-Seventeen's new menu in this column several months ago; it was in place before the space was closed to be redone by Paul Draper and Associates. Now the redesigned room has re-opened.

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