Museums add cuisine to culture

Attractions have set out to raise the quality of food on visitors' plates to match the level of the art on their walls

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 10:30pm

Visitors to museums are long used to feasting their eyes on sumptuous works of art, but having to resort to snack food when it comes to actual sustenance.

Now, though, the temples of culture are increasingly turning their attention to their food and looking to lift the fare on their tables to the same level as what's hanging on the walls.

The Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, New York's Museum of Modern Art and the LuCCA contemporary art museum in the Italian town of Lucca have taken the lead by launching luxury restaurants that have earned one star each in the Michelin Guide. 

"The Guggenheim needed an avant-garde approach - an identity, a style - and that's what we did," says Josean Alija, the chef at the Frank Gehry-designed museum. Alija was just 19 when the Guggenheim opened in 1997 with him at the head of its Basque-themed bistro.

In 2011, the museum decided to step things up a notch by opening Nerua, its high-end restaurant. Their faith in Alija was justified when it won its Michelin star a year later.

"It was a gamble to join a museum to a first-class gastronomic restaurant," museum spokeswoman Begona Martinez says of director Juan Ignacio Vidarte's decision.

Adding a real dining experience is taking hold elsewhere. The Louvre, Musee d'Orsay and Rodin Museum in Paris are listening harder to visitors' culinary expectations.

"There is competition between museums, between countries, and the quality of their restaurants now is part of the museums' criteria of fame or quality," says Jean-Francois Camarty, whose Elior Concessions runs restaurants for French museums and companies. "There is a big jump in quality in terms of expectations and service, but there also have to be outlets for all tastes and budgets."

That's why the Quai Branley Museum in Paris also offers a less costly café with its HK$420-a-head restaurant.

Agence France-Presse