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Art Institute Opens Japanese Wing With Taiko Drummers, Celebrity Chef—and Plenty of Sake

By Jenny Berg September 28, 2010, 12:45 PM EDT

Photo: Photography by Tay Kaune

Art Institute of Chicago's Opening Gala of the New Weston Wing and Japanese Art Galleries
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On Saturday night, the Art Institute of Chicago celebrated the opening of its new Weston Wing and Japanese Art Galleries with a thematic bang: At the entrance of the Michigan Avenue institution, two taiko drummers performed an energetic welcome.

Inside, the theme carried on, as door greeters offered guests glasses filled with scallops, wasabi, and sake, urging them to “take it back like a shot.” Indeed, one of the gala's goals was to have elements of Japanese culture “scattered throughout the entire evening,” said the museum's associate director of development, Kimberly Masius.

The Japan-inspired touches began before the gala did, with gold-chrysanthemum-covered invites from Hannah Handmade. “The chrysanthemum is a very special flower in Japan,” Masius said. The dress code relayed in the invite called for “black tie or ethnic dress,” and some of the 620 guests opted for the latter. Accessories ranged from jade necklaces to obi sashes or printed fans, and one attendee came in a vintage kimono.

Thematic tropes popped up throughout the galleries. Sake and sushi bars stood outside some of the art-filled rooms, and a trio of kimono-wearing musicians played the traditional stringed instruments shamisen. Shozo Sato, a well-known ikebana (or Japanese floral design) artist, donated a six-foot-tall arrangement for the occasion.

New York-based chef and restaurant consultant Hiroko Shimbo planned the three-course dinner. Chefs from Bon Appetit, the museum's in-house catering division, flew to New York to train in her kitchen before the event, and Shimbo was at the gala.

With an appetizer of pan-seared black cod and squid with yuzu-flavored miso sauce, a Washu beef entrée or a vegetarian alternative of Japanese lotus-root wontons, and a dessert of yuzu crème brûlée with chocolate-ginger truffles, the meal had “ingredients we aren't used to working with and had to specially source,” said Masius. Among those requested ingredients: Shimbo “had a lot of special sakes she wanted to use.”

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