Café Sebastienne: Where Culinary Meets Creativity
Chef Rick Mullins of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s Café Sebastienne has a well-earned reputation for pushing the envelope. Here he talks culinary creativity, the evolution of his kitchen, and the new “American diet” menu showcasing his team’s ingenuity.
This July marks your one year at Cafe Sebastienne- how have you transformed the menu, and how has working as the Chef there changed your style of of cooking?
The year that I have been here has been transformative for me on multiple levels. It has really allowed me to focus on my relationships with the people who grow for us, allowed me to express myself artistically and politically, and has given me a deeper understanding of my creative process.
I have never been in a position that has allowed me to fully express who I am as a person or develop such rich relationships with the people who grow food. I am not sure, stylistically, if how I cook has changed, but how I approach the creative process has changed a lot.
All of the menus at Café Sebastienne have changed pretty drastically. Some of the staple dishes have remained, but we have certainly changed the format and direction of the food. For example, we don’t buy flavored oils and vinegars, or stuff like truffles and expensive caviar. We are more interested in taking what comes from the land regionally and creating luxury items with them through time, patience, and a deeper understanding of the ingredients.
We really try to create everything on our own. This allows us to remain as locally sourced as possible and allows us to learn and grow as a team of chefs. I feel like the comfortability we have as a team has allowed us to inject our creative process with statements that could be considered subversive in nature and political.
Your new “American diet” menu at the cafe has been so fun to follow- what inspired this menu?
The newest menu’s inspiration was derived from a need to explain where we are as a nation and how we treat food.
To say the absolute least: there is a crisis in America that is predicated on the fact that we have no idea where our food comes from, a lot of people do not have access to clean healthy food, we have no real cultural concept of where some of our staples originated, and we are a nation that has relaxed laws on food production in the interest of companies who don’t have our best interests in mind.
This menu reflects a simple statement with only one purpose: to provoke thought. But while the concept was completely loaded with a serious undertone, it was critical that we approached it as light-heartedly as possible. The staff, in general, is a very socially aware group and our philosophies/political approaches are mostly in line with one another. But we also think jalapeño poppers and bagel bites are hilarious.
Can you describe a few of your favorite dishes from this feature menu and the creative process behind developing them?
The bagel bites, jalapeño poppers, and taco salad are my favorite.
The bagel bites are an idea Chef Darby came up with. We make the bagels, mozzarella, and sausage (not cured, just in case the health department is reading) in house, and then add fresh heirloom tomato, basil, and oregano topped with a tomato leather (think adult fruit roll up). It is unreal.
Chef Carrie came up with the poppers. They are simple, deceptive, and delicious. Jalapeño cream cheese ice cream breaded with corn flakes and corn meal. They come with a side of peach jam. They crush!!!
The taco salad was originally going to be hard shell tacos with octopus. After some thought and reflection, I decided on a taco salad just like the one Donald Trump ate to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Presented in a fried Yoli tortilla, it has pinto beans, cauliflower cooked in Recado Rojo, chipotle crema, pickled (native) cactus, pickled red onion, radish, and cilantro. I’ve never been so ashamed and delighted to enjoy these things in my life!
This menu is truly a collaborative effort by all in the Café Sebastienne kitchen. Another favorite is the house made fortune cookies, complete with fortunes/misfortunes, on miso caramel ice cream which our general manager, Mickey Priolo, contributed.
What's next for Cafe Sebastienne?
We are going to keep pushing ourselves and refining the menus. Creatively and personally, we are all trying to grow and learn. I can’t imagine a better group to do that with than the people I work with.
Coming up over the next few months we will be hosting a series of dining experiences that are inspired by some of the artists who are contributing to the Museum's twenty-fitth anniversary year. We will be approaching these dinners by digging into the ideas and philosophies the artist create by and the art itself. (https://www.kemperart.org/artist-dinner-series)
We are really excited to be able to collaborate with artists and create menus reflective of them and their work. I have always believed that the best way to understand a culture is to understand art, food, and music from that culture– and that creative expression is the purest form of expression, and really exposes the roots of people. Any collaboration of these three seems like something that should be commonplace, but it really isn’t. So we are really looking forward to what’s in store, nurturing it, and allowing it to grow into something that we will continue into the future.
Dine at Café Sebastienne to try the American diet menu through the end of July- you can get your reservations here.