March 3. 2011
Special to The Washington Examiner
Bryon Brown is a high-flying chef, alchemist and showman whose extravagant theatrical bent has thrust him into a new paradigm, one that will feature exotic performance artists, molecular gastronomy and world fusion music, all in one 12-course dining experience that caters to all the senses. His latest venture, housed in a specially designed Buckminster Fuller-inspired geodesic dome constructed near Nationals Park, will please his legions of adoring foodies that have been tracking him through Twitter to the DC art galleries where he has been hosting his secret food plus art plus music events.
His highly original concept of juxtaposing cutting edge culinary techniques with the arts could elevate him to the vanguard of today’s most experimental and exciting chefs. But can he pull it off? If he does, and I’m betting on it, it will be a spectacular achievement.
“I actually come from the higher education world. My background is in research methodology and statistics, ” he let on. But his early culinary training was at Jaleo and minibar under José Andrés; and Cork under Ron Tanaka.
In 2009, he developed an iPhone application – “Wine Picks by Sommeliers”, which was purchased by over 80,000 subscribers. Last year it was named one of Apple’s “Staff Picks” and was a highly ranked Lifestyles app.
As a writer on food and theatre I was particularly interested in your project? How do you combine art, theatre, dance and music with food?
Artisa Kitchen started out as a nomadic super club in various art galleries in DC. We used The Fridge Gallery, the Hamiltonian and the Long View Gallery. People would sign up and submit their appetites to me. And what we learned from doing those dinners was that people really enjoy the intimacy of an informal setting. We wondered how we could take that a step further to enhance their experience with art music and food. Although the emphasis is on theatre, our goal is to heighten the culinary senses.
How does “Sensorium” unfold?
The premise is that your taste experience dissipates the fastest. So we connect it with the visual experience since your visual perceptions memories last longer.
For example in this dinner we make what we call a ‘Mimosa Grape”. It’s a spherified mimosa cocktail shaped like a grape that we add pop rocks to. For the theatre part we emphasize the sound of pop rocks exploding and at the same time the performers act that out. We strive to connect internally with our guests in order to reinforce their taste memory.
Why do you host these events in a geodesic dome?
To bring people out of their normal everyday experience. And, more practically, since it is the most secure and green of structures.
What technical aspects of the event lend excitement to the evening?
We build theatrical lighting into each course. We make a Cloud Nine Salmon Salad. We create a cloud from liquid nitrogen and use it as a plate. And the lighting makes it feel as though you’re going down a rabbit hole into a new universe.
What sort of music and performance is in the project?
We create music with a sound designer so that each music component enhances the culinary perspective. With our sous vide-prepared rockfish course we bring people underwater as they are eating and at the same time the performers pluck blue light out of thin air to the sound of roaring water. Lighting mimics the underwater feel and a school of fish appears on the set.
Salmon is served under a box with smoke pouring out. For the poultry course we create two birds conversing on a porch, deciding whether they want to eat duck. It’s really playful and connects the theatre with the culinary world.
How do people find out where your dinners are held?
They follow me on Facebook and Twitter through my catering company Artisa Kitchen. But we are holding off on our gallery dinners while we are doing Sensorium.
How did you put your team together?
I met my team through my supper clubs where I met a lot of artists. My creative director works at The Fridge Gallery. Back then he was training as a magician. We talked about how those two worlds merge – taking people out of their schema and asking how they experience and know food – similar to how a magician creates an illusion. We asked ourselves what it might be like to take magic and illusion and mash them up together. We already had a following and now people were looking to us for the next big thing. Our challenge was how to transcend the supper club. We think that theatre and foodie people can be different crowds but we feel we can we can bring them together.
How do you use molecular gastronomy during the dinner?
There is a whole segment on making a sorbet with liquid nitrogen. We create a monster water slide for liquid to travel into a bowl and become a giant pudding pop. We asked ourselves “How do we enhance that as a ritual?” I saw it in action when I worked at minibar where the whole ritualistic experience is behind it. While I was there I learned how the entertainment side of food is important. I think the Japanese do that best with their tea and food rituals.
Does the dome travel with you?
Yes. It’s made out of steel triangle rods and fabric and takes about a day to put up and a day to take down. After Washington we plan to go to Miami, Philadelphia and New York and then the West Coast. But we wanted to have it here first since DC is our home.
Where was your most exciting dining experience?
At Mario Batali’s Posto restaurant in New York City with my aunt. They knew it was her first time and they took great care of us during a 12-course authentic Roman meal.
Who was your greatest culinary influence?
Actually my cooking was most influenced by chef and author, Heston Blumenthal, and his “The Fat Duck Cookbook”. When he started out he took what little money he had and traveled around to the best restaurants in the country to taste what they were doing before he wrote his book.
Who would you most like to see attend one of your dinners?
I want President Obama and the First Lady to come and bring their daughters, Sasha and Melia!
I understand you are conducting scientific research in developing Sensorium.
Joshua Foer, author of “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”, is collaborating with us on a research methodology project about how to reinforce the idea of connecting visual memory with taste memory. We will be documenting our work and tweeting people’s reactions and experiences to see if what we’re doing actually works.
How do you select the wines to pair with the dishes?
I meet with Tom Freidberg twice a week and he brings seven to ten wines for me to taste. He is my professional catalogue. He’s been with me for my supper clubs and he knows what I do and where I want to take it. I’m exploring how to take these instinctual components and reinforce them.
We understand that beer and wine are contextual. We do four wine pairings with dinner plus cocktails in the foyer that are served on customized tables with ‘geoscopes’ in them. We like to mix up perceptions of reality. The goal is to break people’s game up. Whatever you think a signature cocktail is – that’s not what’s its going to be.
What do you hope guests will come away with from this special evening?
I think everything that we’re doing is new but for sure there is nothing out there that connects music to the food. I hope people will ask, “What just happened to me!”
For information and ticket purchases: www.sensoriumdc.com