Poised at the intersection of food and art history, an enchanting Texan beckons with her fork.
Maite (My-tay) Gomez-Rejon, 39, with a graduate degree in art
history from the Art Institute of Chicago and a Grande Diplome from the
French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked as a museum educator
and private chef until two years ago, when she started a company called
ArtBites to integrate her passions.
Now the Los Angeles-based chef and teacher crisscrosses the country
conducting one-day adventures for folks who also find fascination in
the fusion of food and art.
Last week at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gomez-Rejon guided a
group of seven women (and her male cousin) through galleries of
British, French, and Italian paintings and then cooked an appropriately
themed lunch with them at La Cucina in the Reading Terminal Market.
It was her first time working with the museum and it was happy to
have her. Museum spokesman Norman Keyes said tours such as
Gomez-Rejon's augment the museum's official offerings.
"Whenever people are engaged in art, and can experience it in a fresh way, it's a wonderful opportunity," Keyes said.
Gomez-Rejon also offers tours focusing on Aztec and Chinese
cultures, but last week she led her Grand Tour - a look at that British
exercise that had wealthy young men of leisure touring France and Italy
in search of art, culture, and the roots of Western civilization.
"In the early 1600s, there were no art schools, per se, in England,"
Gomez-Rejon told the group. In fact, most art was privately owned, and
Grand Tour-ists made appointments to see collections at private estates.
Initially only gentlemen with time, money, and connections made the
tour. Some took along promising artists of the day - also male - who
could not afford such trips on their own.
In time young women made the quest. And by the 1960s, fresh college
grads were backpacking through Europe, taking all the glamour and glitz
out of the endeavor.
Here's where that fork fits in: Thomas Coryate reportedly introduced
the fork to England after seeing it in Italy during his travels there
in 1608. The utensil eventually caught on, and so did the desire to
study Greco-Roman art, music, architecture, and ideas through extensive
"Everywhere they went, they ate well and experienced ingredients
that were new to them and brought those foods back home," said
Gomez-Rejon. "They probably did not miss the relatively bland food back
None of the paintings on her tour showed people eating and drinking.
Instead, she linked food history to certain carefully selected
portraits, sculptures, and objects at the museum.
So, for example, the group stopped at a bust of Louis XIV, who made
sure his Palace at Versailles had a kitchen garden and a hothouse so he
could enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
Word is, Louis also liked to make his own omelets, Gomez-Rejon said.
"French service" originated at Versailles, she said. A parade of
servants carried trays of food a mile or more from the kitchen to the
dining room of the opulent palace, presenting all the picture-perfect
"By the time the food reached the guests, it was probably cold," she
said. "The way we eat now, with our food served in separate courses at
different temperatures, derived from the Russian style."
Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin dined at Versailles.
Among Jefferson's papers were recipes for macaroni and cheese and
vanilla ice cream, both written in his hand. And Louis XVI, who favored
potatoes for their nutritional value, served Franklin a meal at which
every dish was potato-based. Franklin was surprised and pleased, said
Gomez-Rejon, given that Englishmen of the time shunned potatoes because
they were not mentioned in the Bible.
Among the participants who paid $130 each for Gomez-Rejon's Grand
Tour were Connie Holt, a hospitality teacher at Widener University, and
two of her friends from Wallingford. For years, the three have been
part of a larger supper club of couples who take turns making dinners
for one another.
"You think you know," said Holt, who is particularly well-traveled. "But there is always more to learn."