OPENrestaurant, a Futurist Take on Dinner at SFMoMA | Civil Eats

OPENrestaurant, a Futurist Take on Dinner at SFMoMA


A conservative town San Francisco is not, but even the among the most open-minded veterans of Bay Area culture, a short intake of breath was heard on Saturday night when into the foyer of the SF Museum of Modern Art rolled a bicycle trailer hauling a whole, spit-roasted cow.

The bovine beast was the centerpiece of an evening with OPENrestaurant, a collective of young Bay Area chefs who stage performance installations that revolve around food, farming, and the politics of the two. This time the theme was futurism—specifically, the Futurist Cookbook, written in 1932 by pioneering Italian futurist, F.T. Marinetti. The event was part of SFMOMA’s exhibition honoring the centennial of the futurist movement, entitled Metal + Machine + Manifesto = Futurism’s First 100 Years. OPENrestaurant founders Sam White, Stacie Pierce and Jerome Waag brought together a formidable group of local chefs and designers to recreate the wild mechanical inventions and adapt the even wilder recipes from the famously radical book.


Entering the space, guests were handed martini glasses filled with a thick, potent avocado and brandy cocktail squeezed from a pastry bag. Overhead a remote-control cropduster hung from the ceiling and volunteers of the event wore armbands screen-printed with a matching propeller plane. I was told afterwards that the circling plane was spritzing the audience with “Agent Orange flower water” (made from orange trees planted by the creator of the dreaded chemical), though with the overwhelming amount of action in the space, a spritz was too subtle to be sensed. Our senses were instead stimulated by the amplified recitations of an Italian poet performing over a loudspeaker, recordings of mooing cows on their way to slaughter, giant wall-projected video clips of old Italian road bike races (and crashes), and of course the tastes of numerous foods, each rich with symbolism: Small early girl tomatoes stuffed with halibut ceviche referenced the infamous genetic engineering experiment that spliced the DNA of a tomato and a flounder; fried corn tortillas shaped into cones and filled with ground beef represented the corn-fed cows of industrial meat production; gelatinized beet juice molded into the shape of a heart and studded with goat cheese signaled a beating heart.

In the midst of it all, a team of female butchers broke down the body of the bike-delivered steer, sending the beef on a conveyor belt around the floor of the museum to stations where it was cut and served to the audience. The open-faced beef sandwiches—”true cost beef”—were dressed with thick molé, to represent the crude oil used in industrial meat production, and a bean foam, which alluded to the methane gas produced by cows. The bewildering complexity of the meaning behind the dishes never betrayed their flavor. As would be expected from a team of chefs with a Chez Panisse pedigree, each bite was delicious. Sadly, we left prematurely and missed the arrival of dessert, which came from the ceiling by parachute. In their description of this course, the OPEN team says, “the parachutes reference the militaristic side of the futurists and a bit of the idea of ‘winning the hearts and minds of people’ by the military dropping Hershey bars, or propaganda from overhead.”


While food is integral to the text of the Futurist Cookbook, OPEN is quick to articulate that the Futurist movement itself is about art writ large, and Marinetti’s treatment of his ingredients had far more to do with art and design than nourishment. In fact, he believed that food itself was better left to creative manipulation, and nutritional value should be popped in pill form. Appropriately, great attention was paid to the aesthetics of the experience, and while most of it was bound within the space and time of the evening, one great takeaway was the beautiful menu, which was designed by Sasha Wizansky, founder of Meatpaper Magazine (get a PDF here).

By the time we left, our heads were spinning (of course that had nothing to do with the half dozen different cocktails that were served throughout the night) and our stomachs were full. It was remarkable to see just how many people could be fed from the flesh of a single steer. Our only regret was how many details we surely missed with our senses kicked into overdrive for all those hours. In studying the menu later, which includes mention of most of the notable works of culinary and physical art, I uncovered even more layers in hindsight. But the production is imprinted so indelibly in my mind that it’s not hard to travel back mentally and add a spritz of Agent Orange Flower Water to the memory.

newsmatch 2023 banner - donate to support civil eats

Photos: Creative Commons licensed and taken by Sasha Wizansky

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

Sarah Rich is an editor at Dwell magazine, where she specializes in sustainable design and architecture. She was the managing editor of the Slow Food Nation blog leading up to the inaugural 2008 event in San Francisco. She was also the managing editor and co-author of the book Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century (Abrams, 2006). Sarah lives in the Mission district of San Francisco where fog is scarce and tacos are not. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Tony18
    "nutritional value should be popped in pill form"

    Yeah, that will never happen.
  2. i've been asked to make dinner for the family and have no clue what to make. HELP??!! i want to do something with vegetables or fish, no meat, i can look up the recipe but any ideas would be greatly appreciated! !!
  3. Wow. And some people were wondering why the movement is seen as "elitist"?

More from



Injured divers work on various exercises in a small rehabilitation room at the hospital. Dr. Henzel Roberto Pérez, the deputy director of information management at the hospital, said that one of the many problems with the lobster diving industry is “Children are working for these companies. At least one of the companies is from the United States.” (Photo credit: Jacky Muniello)

Diving—and Dying—for Red Gold: The Human Cost of Honduran Lobster

The Walton Family Foundation invested in a Honduran lobster fishery, targeting its sustainability and touting its success. Ten years later, thousands of workers have been injured or killed. 


This Indigenous Cook Wants to Help Readers Decolonize Their Diets

author Sara Calvosa Olson and the cover of her book about indigenous foods and foodways, Chimi Nu'am. (Photo courtesy of Sara Calvosa Olson)

This #GivingTuesday, Help Us Celebrate Our Successes

prize winning squash for giving tuesday!

Can Virtual Fences Help More Ranchers Adopt Regenerative Grazing Practices?

A goat grazing with one of them virtual fencing collars on its neck. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

With Season 2, ‘High on the Hog’ Deepens the Story of the Nation’s Black Food Traditions

Stephen Satterfield and Jessica B. Harris watching the sunset at the beach, in a still from Netflix's High on the Hog Season 2. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)