notes from the mexican kitchen

Behind The Scenes of Topolo’s New Art Menu

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UNCAGED Lime-marinated Alaskan king salmon, Santa Barbara sea urchin, aji amarillo, creamy coconut, saffron-pickled knob onions, Bayless Garden micro greens, corn masa “jaula”
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SERIES: CHILDREN’S GAMES IV (detail) Rubén Leyva (b. 1953)
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JOY AT PLAY Tender local asparagus and radishes, spiced pumpkinseed “hummus,” savory tropical flavors, unexpected herbs
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BICYCLES AND CONSTELLATIONS (detail) Enrique Flores (b. 1954)
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TIMELESS WONDER Creamy tamal colado, tepary beans, garlic chive oil, homemade lardo,
allium in various guises

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THE CRY (detail) Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
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THAT MOMENT OF SELF REALIZATION Viking Village scallop crusted in sal de gusano, braised beef tongue, sorrel salsa verde, sea beans, cured nopal, Japanese root
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LEDA (detail) Rolando Rojas (b. 1970)
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THINGS AREN'T ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM Halibut steak, camote potatoes, escabeche vegetables, guajillo chile demiglace
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UNTITLED (detail) Filemón Santiago (b. 1958)
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THE WARM FLOOD OF MEMORIES Sweet-savory brioche bread pudding with Prairie Fruits tetilla cheese, blackberry-brandy sorbet, spiced rhubarb and almonds, local cream, young herbs
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UNTITLED (detail) Jane Alt (b. 1951)
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THE GOLD-PLATED HUG Cajeta-ganache tart (sweet spice, 2 chiles), fruits & flowers,
prickly pear meringues, gilding

Browse all seven courses of our new art menu—and the artworks that inspired them—in the slideshow above.

Six weeks ago, Rick gathered the Topolo chefs around the big wood table in our library.

“This is going to be absolutely the most difficult thing in the world,” he told them. “You’re taking an emotional reaction and turning it into another emotional reaction.”

The chefs—Andres Padilla, Joel Ramirez, Jennifer Jones— looked at him a little wide-eyed.

“You’re going to have to let yourself get into the artworks,” Rick continued. “Not study them in a studious way, but really get into them. You have to step back and think: How does this make me feel?”

I was the lucky one at the table—I didn’t have to create a dish—yet even I could feel the weight of the assignment. In embarking on the Topolobampo Art Menu, the chefs had to grapple with the intersection of aesthetics and emotions. Then, somehow, they had to make it edible.

Still, when Rick looked at the chefs and said “So, how does this feel as a way to start?” the chefs said it felt good. Then they got to work.

Each of the three chefs picked a few pieces from our walls—whatever they were drawn to. And, as Rick instructed, they spent time with that piece and paid attention to their guttural, emotional reactions. When Joel stared at Enrique Flores’s “Bicycles and Constellations” (pictured, as all the artworks on the menu are, in the slideshow above), he felt pangs of love mixed with childlike wonder. “It’s about relationships and space,” he told me. The dish he created—the third of the seven courses—is built around two ingredients entangled in a famous love affair: onions and garlic.

When Andres considered Leda by Rolando Rojas, he felt almost toyed with. The painting is based on the Greek myth about Leda and the swan; what appears to be just a bird on the canvas turns out to be a commentary on rape. “It can feel like a bait-and-switch,” Andres says. So his dish, the fifth of the seven courses, is a bait-and-switch as well.

Filemón Santiago’s untitled depiction of a picnic was nostalgic for Jennifer. It took her to a place “of eating in a place that you typically don’t, in a way that you typically don’t.” Her dish, the first dessert course of the night, contains all the elements of those all-to-rare picnics, including that feeling of excitement.

This is not the first time that Topolo has developed an art menu; the first was a few years ago. But everybody who was around then has commented that, while the first one was good, this is the one that got it right. When Deann ate it for the first time, she encapsulated many people’s thoughts: “This,” she said, “is the most brilliant work we have ever done.”

Make a reservation to experience the Art Menu 2014 here, or call us at 312-661-1434.



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