A Real Feast

Uchi restaurant whiz puts on special $500-a-plate art dinners throughout Houston

Uchi restaurant whiz puts on special $500-a-plate dinners in Houston

Conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll — in partnership with Uchi culinary director Philip Speer — is just one in a series of artists to assist the University of Houston Blaffer Art Museum in defying the rules of charitable fundraising. At a recent $500 per person dinner, she incorporated Christmas trees, a black stallion and readings from the script of Giant as part of the museum's inspired fundraising effort titled "Feast: A Dinner Series."

As Blaffer director Claudia Schmuckli explained, "With its focus on hospitality, the upcoming exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art inspired us to forgo this year the large annual benefit gala and instead plan a series of intimate dinners that offer an excellent artistic and culinary experience that would stand out as unique and memorable." Five artists from the museum's Feast exhibition, opening in September, were invited to join Speer in creating unconventional art/culinary experiences.

 To say the menu selections were innovative is an understatement. 

The dinners, hosted in the private homes of Houston collectors, will accommodate no more than 30 guests for a multi-course meal with wine pairings provided by renowned sommelier David Keck, also of Uchi. The description of the dinner says to "prepare yourself to experience a partnership between food and art like never before." And, well, having experienced the first in the series, I couldn’t agree more. 

Drawing inspiration from the Spanish Mission style home of Jim McAlister, Carroll set out to parallel the oil-based history of Texas with the history of the oil-rich Blaffer family and a focus on origins. Thus, the Christmas trees and nativity scenes representing birth and the black horse representing the mystique of Texas. But then she added actors reading lines from Giant and brought in an authentic Scotsman (the Blaffers are of Scottish origin) to read from Robert Burns. Guests were moved, if not slightly unnerved.

To say the menu selections were innovative is an understatement. Deconstructed presentations of palate pleasers like cauliflower soup with pickled romanesco, roasted artichoke and lemon miso, beef (bone marrow) served on rice paper dusted with kaffir lime, ramp foam with grilled ramp pickle, charred salsify, coriander citrus blossoms, green peppercorn powder and for dessert . . . well, you get the picture. 

Among those attending the seated dinner were Blaffer Art Museum board members and guests Jo and Jim Furr, Gracie and Bob Cavnar, William Goldberg, Michael Landrum and Philip Paratore, Miya Shay, Mamta and Dr. Raza Pasha, Tracy and Glen Larner and Garrett Hunter.

Future Feast dinners on the calendar are scheduled for Saturday at the home of Mike Loya with artist Lynne McCabe (sold out), June 22 at the home of Leslie and Mark Hull with artist Miguel Amat, July 20 at the home of Jo and Jim Furr with The Art Guys and Aug. 17 at the home of Jim Petersen and Lindsey George with artist Gabriel Martinez.

Individual tickets are available for $500 and can be purchased here. The series is co-sponsored by Texas Monthly and Whole Foods.

23 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Uchi Director of Culinary Operations Phillip Speer and Chef de Cuisine, Kaz Edwards
Uchi's Phillip Speer, left, and Kaz Edwards, chef de cuisine, work on dishes at the Blaffer Art Museum fundraiser. Courtesy photo
5 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 The guests enjoy an intimate evening at a dramatically set long table
The guests enjoy an intimate evening at the Blaffer Art Museum fundraiser. Courtesy photo
1 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Oscar Arcos, Mamta Pasha and Dr. Raza Pasha, Jim McAlister
Oscar Arcos, from left, Mamta and Dr. Raza Pasha and Jim McAlister at the Blaffer Art Museum fundraiser. Courtesy photo
3 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Blaffer Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Claudia Schmuckli interacts with the surprise performer riding a black stallion
Claudia Schmuckli, right, with the surprise performer riding a black stallion at the Blaffer Art Museum fundraiser. Courtesy photo
23 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Uchi Director of Culinary Operations Phillip Speer and Chef de Cuisine, Kaz Edwards
5 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 The guests enjoy an intimate evening at a dramatically set long table
1 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Oscar Arcos, Mamta Pasha and Dr. Raza Pasha, Jim McAlister
3 Deborah Elias My Favorite Things May 2013 Blaffer Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Claudia Schmuckli interacts with the surprise performer riding a black stallion