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Feature Fri Mar 09 2012
Many of us evaluate a restaurant based on the food; after all, restaurants are about eating. But how many of us stop and think about the design--like the look of the interior, the materials used, and the color scheme--when it comes to our food experiences?
This is the question that the Chicago Architecture Foundation wants you to think about through their series Appetite for Design. Over a year in the making, this program is part of CAF's adult education series (yes, CAF does more than just river tours). I sat down with Kristy Peterson, Manager of Public Programs and Justin Lyons, Director of Communications to learn more about what this world of food and design has to offer.
What is the Appetite for Design program?
Appetite for Design is part of our adult education series and it seeks to blend the architectural space of a restaurant with the whole aesthetic of the cuisine, so it's pairing the design of the food with the design of the space. We spotlight about one restaurant a month where we join the restaurant owners and chefs as well as the architect or designer to talk about the restaurant's concept and the inspiration behind it.
What is the general format of a typical event and who is this program for?
It usually starts off a casual welcome reception, and then a 30-40 minute presentation by the chefs/owners and the architect, followed by a specially prepared meal. Everything is designed in consultation with the chef and restaurant, from the menu to the place settings.
Since our mission is to connect people of greater Chicago with the built environment, architecture, and design, this program is open to anyone interested in design, architecture and food.
You've held events at places like Sepia, The Drake, and The Girl and the Goat. What was your favorite experience, and what restaurant blended the concept of design and food the best?
Each location is different but I think Sepia, which we held in January, was pretty special because the restaurant's owner Emmanuel Nony, who is a really creative and warm engaging individual. With Sepia's designer Donna Corbat (of Gary Lee Partners), he gave a very detailed presentation during the restaurant's normal hours. Everything was so carefully designed and presented. It was like going to someone's house and getting a glance into their kitchen.
All our events have been delightful and special, and that's why we choose them. Province might have been a good example of a restaurant that blended the design and food concept because the owner of the restaurant and the interior designer had a true friendship. It felt like the designer was really able to execute his concepts.
What are the criteria that you look for when choosing spaces?
We look for spaces that have a really strong interior design or aesthetic and that are unique. Something that's new and a place that's putting out fabulous food as well is important.
How would you describe the relationship between food and design?
It's about aesthetics as a whole, because you're engaging all your senses - visual, taste, and auditory. It's a complete package so that makes it fun. If you're a foodie, you're dining out all the time and going to the hottest restaurants, but how often do you stop to think about the backstory, the design and the process involved in creating the space? Design adds a layer.
We seem to be in a farm-to-table movement in the Chicago community. Does this mean anything for design and what are the trends that you are seeing in the Chicago restaurant scene?
Designs of Chicago restaurant interiors are quite different, from elegant to hip and urban, so I can't say if that's being captured in the design based on what we've seen. I don't know if I can say anything about trends but we are seeing many restaurants making more green choices, both in sustainability related to design and the materials used, so that's definitely one trend I see.
What impact do you want this to have on this city's food scene?
Many cities are doing this type of program so I don't think we are unique in our endeavors but I think getting people to pay attention to the world around them and the environment in which they are having an experience in and thinking about the artistic and design elements in everyday life, that's what we want to do at CAF with all of our programming. It's about the context. And with Chicago being one of the richest architectural cities in the world, it's shining a light on architecturally significant spaces in different communities. Statistically speaking, our restaurant selections have been downtown but we are moving away from that into other areas such as Andersonville and Wicker Park in our efforts to bring draw people out of their communities to experience other aspects of what this city has to offer.
What's the next step for the program?
Having a variety and having things that are unexpected. There is a danger to getting into a formulaic experience, and we want to make it accessible to a wide group of people at different times of day and different formats with different price points so we are looking at other event formats such as brunches or receptions in different price ranges.
Ok, chicken or egg--which comes first?
I think it's really the concept or idea that comes first, and the menu concept helps inform the design execution. Conversely, there might be an interesting space with existing historical details that might also be incorporated. But I think it's always the idea that starts everything.
Anything else that you want our readers to know about CAF?
I think one of the things most people don't know about CAF are these adult programs, Appetite for Design being one. There's a whole breadth of unique things that CAF is doing. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
The next Appetite for Design event is Monday, March 26 from 6-9 pm at Perennial Virant, 1800 N. Lincoln. Chef Paul Virant will be featuring a four-course meal with selected wine pairings. The restaurant is built around the concept of "embracing the Midwestern seasons and utilizing methods of preservation," while designer Karen Herold of Chicago 555 features a look that is "comfortable vintage" and "farmhouse posh." Tickets are $105 for CAF non-members and $95 for members.For details on future and past events and to register, contact CAF. (If $100 is too high for your price point don't worry, CAF also offers events in the $50 price range; you just won't be able to get your drink on).
All Images courtesy of CAF.