"Remember those modern art style desserts?" SFist wondered in April 2015 when we learned that MOMA had not renewed its contract with the coffee shop Blue Bottle. "What will become of them!?"
You know the sweets: In particular, the above Mondrian cake. Well, at long last, that question has been (in part)answered by a recent food piece in the Chronicle. According to the Blue Bottle pastry chef who invented them, they're back in the museum while she's on the sidelines, having been stolen in a "direct rip-off." If the accusation is to be believed, it might be seen as a strange but nonetheless real indictment of the museum's commitment to intellectual property.
Being rejected from the new MOMA clearly irked Blue Bottle pastry chef Caitlin Freeman, who wrote the 2013 cookbook Modern Art Desserts to celebrate and share her previous work at the museum. Freeman's husband, James Freeman, is Blue Bottle's founder. The couple says they paid about $20,000 on renderings and tasting menus to woo the MOMA contract.
But after finally visiting the new space and seeing cakes reminiscent of her own, the pastry chef says she's not just insulted, but injured. The caterers at Cafe 5, the fifth floor restaurant in the newly reopened SFMOMA, are making their own artistic cakes, though notably not the Mondrian item, on the same museum floor where Blue Bottle opened in 2009.
“It’s so tacky and so gross," Freeman tells the Chronicle, "but there’s kind of nothing I can do about it,”
The company McCalls Catering runs Cafe 5, and the new “art-inspired cakes" include a banana peanut butter cake named after Warhol’s “Triple Elvis” and a layer cake that takes its name and (some of its appearance) from Ellsworth Kelly’s “Gaza.”
Blue Bottle didn't have those cakes, specifically. While the Mondrian was the best known, there were also layer cakes in the style of artists like a Thiebaud and Diebenkorn. Nevertheless, Freeman says she is so offended that “It makes me not want to go back to the museum" but that she might anyway, because "it's so beautiful."
Complicating all of this is the fact that Corey Lee, the three-Michelin-star chef, is opening a restaurant basically dedicated to cooking the dishes popular at other restaurants while citing them and giving them credit. Of that spot, which has yet to open, he says he's “thinking of it as a food exhibition." Since Freeman hasn't gotten McCalls or MOMA to budge, at least yet, maybe she ought to talk to Lee about getting her name on his dessert menu.