Even in a place attuned to two-wheeled traffic, it was a rare sight one evening last fall to witness a bicycle convoy ferrying a 650-pound steer across San Francisco. The caravan stopped in front of the Museum of Modern Art, where the cow—which had been spit-roasted for 20 hours at an urban farm—was hauled into the foyer and hoisted onto a table. A team of female butchers stood waiting, cleavers in hands, alongside 400 people who had paid to take part in the spectacle. As the butchers cut, the guests crowded in, fascination mixing with revulsion at sharing such an intimate moment with an animal they were about to eat.
This is the kind of scene you find when you dine with OPENrestaurant—a collective of chefs who combine food, design, art, and activism through live performance. The carving of the cow was just one act of the event OPENfuture, inspired by F. T. Marinetti’s 1932 The Futurist Cookbook. The original recipes prioritized politics over palatability, so OPEN’s culinary artists adapted the dishes for flavor, preserving their symbolism. Halibut-stuffed tomatoes recalled the genetic engineering experiment that fused the DNA of a tomato and a fish; ground beef tacos represented the corn-based diet fed to livestock. Overhead, a model crop duster misted guests with “Agent Orange flower water.”
OPEN founders Stacie Pierce, Jerome Waag, and Sam White are well trained in gastronomic ingenuity, having cut their teeth at the celebrated Chez Panisse restaurant. There they discovered a shared interest in 20th-century social art movements. “We started talking about cultivating complete experiences around food, blurring the line between art and real life,” White explains. The trio staged their first event in 2008, building a self-contained temporary dining space inside a warehouse. “We wanted the restaurant itself to be an artistic medium,” says Waag. “The whole thing was a sculpture.”
If Chez Panisse is their school, OPEN has become a playground for Pierce, Waag, and White, free from the conventions of formal dining. Without the behavioral guideposts of traditional restaurant design, a new blueprint for meal making has to be drafted and eating relearned. “In a restaurant, everyone has their persona. Everyone is watching and being watched,” says Pierce. “Here, we leave the rules behind.”