Inside The World’s Most Unique Michelin-Starred Restaurant
There is no restaurant in the world quite like In Situ. Tied to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMa), both physically (it’s on the ground floor) and thematically, this high-concept, Michelin-starred eatery is a compelling exhibition for the complex sphere of culinary arts.
Led by Chef Corey Lee, who also heads neighbouring, three Michelin-starred favourite Benu, along with the help of a studious kitchen team of around 15, In Situ recreates recipes from the world’s greatest chefs, each dictated by the culinary masterminds themselves.
Here you’ll find Momofuku’s David Chang siting next to Brae’s Dan Hunter, and Tickets’ Albert Adria popping up beside Noma’s Rene Redzepi.
Ninety-six of the best restaurants, from Spain and New York to Osaka and London, are part of In Situ’s expansive network. And it’s from this list that Lee and his team craft rotating menus of around 16 dishes at a time, each contributed by the respective chef either as a signature dish or something entirely new.
“We want to make sure that the menu is composed of dishes that really capture the spirit of the chef or restaurant,” says Lee. “It’s quite a challenge for chefs to distill their style of cooking into a single dish to represent them, but that’s exactly what we ask of all our participating chefs.”
The ambitious menu, which rotates new dishes in and out all the time, also includes exclusive creations from the restaurant’s in-house team. This was done partly to round out the menu and partly to give the creative kitchen team a creative outlet, says Lee.
Another thing it’s done is strengthen the connective tissue between In Situ and SFMoMa, where world-class exhibitions are regularly found.
For example, on the menu is a ‘canned’ soup with shitake and pea life dumplings served with vegetable broth, inspired by Andy Warhol’s legendary Campbell’s Soup Cans work featured in current exhibition ‘Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again’. The evolved concept opens up an enormous amount of possibilities.
However, it’s the signatures of these world-class chefs that attract the most attention. And rightfully so.
Nowhere else in the world can you order David Chang’s fiery spicy pork sausage and rice cakes with Sichuan peppercorn and yo choy, and then follow that up with Albert Adria’s trick-dessert of Jasper Hill Farm Cheesecake, which looks like a medium-sized wheel of brie (it’s even served on a wooden cheese board) but is really a hugely indulgent white chocolate cheesecake with butter cookie “crackers”.
If the above is preceded by something like the share-style tapioca and cheese fritters from Rodrigo Oliveria’s legendary Mocoto, then you’ve eaten the best from New York, Barcelona, and Sao Paulo in just one sitting.
Making all that work into one cohesive menu would be difficult. As would working with many vastly different recipes, with most demanding highly seasonal ingredients and differing approaches in the kitchen.
“There are unique challenges that probably don’t exist in any other restaurant besides In Situ,” says Lee, who often travels to learn new recipes from chefs. “We’re working with chefs from around the world so there’s some translating involved, literally and culturally, and we sometimes have to help them navigate that dynamic.”
“We’re also executing recipes and compositions from some of the most avant-grade and fine dining restaurants in the world, and serving them to a larger public in an a la carte restaurant without any diluting of the original dish. That’s not easy”.
Lee and his team start by contacting the chef or restaurant they want to showcase, asking them to select a dish to share with the restaurant. Usually, some exchange is involved to make sure the dish they have in mind is able to be replicated in San Francisco. Then the participating chef decides how to work together with the In Situ team to match all their dish specifications.
The food also has to be plated precisely to capture the artistic merit behind these fine-dining legends.
Take for example, the raw lobster from Bo Bech’s Geist in Copenhagen, which features Canadian lobster tail. The tail is first cut and cleaned before being put between two sheets and pounded into a flat circle. The meat clings onto the entire plate like it was part of the design. It’s served with a dollop of whipped cream, some yuzu, hibiscus powder and salt.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about In Situ is how transient it might be, like a pop-up exhibition waiting to be picked up by the next big art institution.
“I’m not sure how long In Situ will run,” says Lee. “But I would love to see the concept move and travel someday. Maybe another chef can take it over from me and continue it in another city, or country, by partnering with another great museum.”
“We have always thought of In Situ as an exhibition or an installation.”
(Lead image: The Forest by Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur / supplied)
Published 19 July, 2019