Visual Arts

Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr will cook for Pèrez Art Museum Miami

With a small army of workers painting gallery walls and installing lighting fixtures this month, the new Pérez Art Museum Miami is getting ready to welcome thousands of visitors into its 200,000 square feet of bayfront space when it opens in December, in time for Art Basel.

And now, the museum has tapped a chef to feed all those hungry art aficionados:

Stephen Starr, the Philadelphia-based restaurateur whose empire includes 31 dining destinations and exclusive catering contracts at seven cultural institutions, will lead the still-unnamed restaurant at Pérez Art Museum. The catering arm of Starr’s organization also will handle food and drinks for all of the museum’s banquets and private events. Starr's contract with the museum runs for seven years.

“Stephen really appealed to us because of his experience at other institutions as well as with his restaurants,” said Hollie Altman, the museum’s director of special events and sales. “We met with a lot of groups who were either very good at catering or had successful restaurants. But Stephen really has this young, dynamic team that’s able to come to Miami and bring its culinary experiences from both aspects.”

Starr’s restaurant in the new Herzon & de Meuron-designed museum will be open during museum hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, in addition to extended evening hours, until 10 p.m., on Thursday. It will seat about 70 people inside, under a slanted ceiling, and about 30 outside; both dining areas feature views of Biscayne Bay.

The restaurant’s aim is to “lengthen the stay of museum guests, but also of course to raise their overall satisfaction,” said Simon Powles, president of Starr Restaurants Catering Group.

“We hope to provide everything visitors could want during regular museum hours, which primarily will focus on a lot of great lunch dishes and snack items,” Powles said. “We’ll also be open one night a week, and we’d love to take advantage of that by offering beer dinners, wine dinners, cooking demos. And I really hope we can make Sunday brunch a destination opportunity: Come have brunch down by the waterfront; spend the morning with us.”

The restaurant’s menu, like its name, is still a work in progress – Powles said his team has a team trip planned to Miami in early August to hammer out those details – but expect at least some influence from Starr’s flagship restaurants, Buddakan and Morimoto.

“We’ll definitely incorporate some signature Starr dishes, like dim sum from Buddakan and sushi from the Morimoto and Makoto menus,” Powles said, adding that the fare and price points will be family friendly.

In addition to serving the restaurant, Starr’s kitchen will have the capability to handle on-site banquets of up to 400 people at the museum.

“We pride ourselves on delivering restaurant-level cuisine at all of our private functions,” Powles said. “The best feedback we get from clients is when they tell us their food didn’t taste like a mass-produced, catered dinner.”

Museum leaders also have talked with Starr about rotating in seasonal dishes based on the background of exhibiting artists. Starr and his Asian-leaning cuisine should have no problem finding food to fit with the works of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who will be featured at the museum from December through March. But what about when the spring-summer “Caribbean: Crossworlds of the World” installation comes to town? Does he have recipes in his repertoire to complement Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes’ fall exhibit?

Leann Standish, the museum’s deputy director of external affairs, smiled.

“Something we love about Stephen was how creative he is,” Standish said. “He’s very flexible and able to respond to what Miami wants.”

The three-level Pérez Art Museum is located in downtown Miami’s Museum Park, the new name for Bicentennial Park. The space is about three times larger than the Miami Art Museum’s former Flagler Street home and will face the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, set to open in 2015.

The $220 million museum project is being paid for with about $100 million in public money, which Miami-Dade voters approved with a 2004 general obligation bond, and about $120 million in private donations (including $40 million in cash and art from developer Jorge Pérez, the naming donor, and $1 million from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross).

Starr’s restaurant at Pérez Art Museum will be his third in South Florida; he opened Steak 954 at the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale in 2009 and Makoto at the Bal Harbour Shops in 2011. Having been named Bon Appétit magazine’s 2005 Restaurateur of the Year, Starr’s reach includes 20 restaurants in Philadelphia as well as others in New York, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C. His permanent catering gigs include New York Botanical Gardens, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Pérez Art Museum restaurant will be Starr’s first partnership with a Florida cultural institution – bringing his number of exclusive contracts nationwide to eight – and will mark his foray into the region’s catering and special-events market.

Powles said the catering group is looking at two or three potential spaces for a commissary kitchen in Miami to prepare food for non-museum jobs. Starr will have a staff of seven managers at the museum, plus another team for off-site catering.

“We’re very excited about taking our catering brand into the Miami market,” said Powles, who formerly led Wolfgang Puck’s catering business. “We’ve had great success with Steak 954 and Makoto, and obviously we think the Pérez Art Museum is going to be a spectacular venue. Stephen is very committed to South Florida and building our name there.”