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The Autry Is Launching A Dinner Series That Focuses On California's Culinary Past And Future

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The Autry Museum of the American West is getting into the pop-up dinner scene. "Flavors at the Autry" will have two installments. The first is titled "Historic California" and will include food that California diners would have consumed over the centuries. The second, "Future of Food?", will focus on sustainable dining. The dinners are done in partnership with the Livestock Conservancy and Wildwood Heritage Provisions, and according to Autry program manager Ben Fitzsimmons, the meat served will be derived from rare breeds of livestock. It may sound odd to serve meat from a rare animal, but Fitzsimmons explains that to someone who eats meat, it's really not.

"If people weren't eating [these breeds], there would be no reason for the breeders and the conservancy to be restoring them," he said. "Why would farmers put all the work into breeding them when they're not as efficient as the feed lot cows? Farmers are saving and raising them because of the quality of the meat."

One such breed is the Spanish goat, which Fitzsimmons said evolved from a breed of now-extinct Mediterranean goat.

According to the Livestock Conservancy:

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Beginning in the 1500s, Spanish goats were brought from Spain to the Caribbean Islands and from there to the areas that would become the United States and Mexico. These foundation stocks were an undifferentiated Mediterranean type of goat that was common in Spain at the time but no longer exists. This adds genetic and historic importance to the Spanish goat breeds that evolved in the New World.

The other ingredients will be sustainable ingredients that are still around today. For instance, Historic California "takes ingredients that would have been familiar to Californians thought history at different times and combines them," Fitzsimmons said. "So, it uses indigenous plants, [such as] cactus and chia, heritage livestock and heirlooms vegetable to make these meals that contain the essence of some of California. We can't cover the whole history in one meal, but there are a lot of different elements."

The second meal will discuss possible futures for food, which include the idea of eating more seafood and using all parts of an animal. (If you were curious, because I was, they chose not to include insects in their meal plan, simply due to the automatic aversion some have to the idea.)

Both meals will consist of three savory food stations and a dessert station, and at each, guests will be able to speak with the chefs about the dishes. A cash bar will offer local beers, wines and specialty drinks. (Alcoholic beverages are not included in the ticket price.)

"We will seed discussion questions and prompts at the food stations to get people to think about what they're eating in terms of the ingredients and where they're from, but also the bigger picture regarding not wasting food and why we are restoring these breeds," Fitizimmons said. "People can talk and eat and think about it all together. They also get to go into the new gallery and explore, and hopefully make some connections there as well."

The new gallery Fitzsimmons mentions is the Autry's California Continued exhibit: some 20,000 square feet containing two new galleries, an extensive botanical garden and an "immersive media room" that plays a looped video.

One gallery tells the story of Mabel McKay (1907-1993), a Native American basket weaver who was a member of the Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo Indians.

"Her story held many of the essential stories of California and the native Californians over the last 100 years," he says. "She was a very proficient basket weaver and a medical professional within her world. She actually went to teach people at Harvard and places like that to introduce them to native Californian medicine."

The other exhibit, Human Nature, focuses on four elements: salmon, fire, desert and plants. "Human Nature looks at key parts of the environmental issues in California and how we can address them using what we call traditional ecological knowledge," Fitzsimmons said.

The garden contains over 60 different native California plant species spanning 7,000 square feet, and has been decided by landscape architect Matthew Kennedy. The film in the immersive media room, titled California Road Trip, takes the viewer through spectacular landscapes including Death Valley, Big Sur, Joshua Tree, the California Redwoods and Mt. Whitney.

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Below are the menus for the two dinners:

Flavors: Historic California

Friday, January 27, 7-9:30 p.m. $45 members/$50 non-members.

Spanish Goats

Titania Ranch, San Luis Obispo, CA 

Slow-braised Spanish Goat With Date Paste, Walnuts, and Chili Colorado Served on Blue Corn Tostadas

Nopales and Cholla Cactus Flower Bud Salad with Jicama, Cucumber, and Hominy

Standard Bronze Turkey

Autonomy Farms, Bakersfield, CA

Standard Bronze Turkey in Mole With Chia Cornbread Crumble
 Fig and Mesquite Empanada

Texas Longhorn Cattle

Watkins Cattle and Livestock Company
Ojai, CA

Texas Longhorn Tri-tip
Slow-braised with Tepary Beans
 and Charred Elotes

Chef’s Dessert

Heirloom Pumpkin Hand Pies With Star Anise Syrup 
Fig Jam and Local Goat Fromage Blanc

Flavors: Future of Food?
Friday, February 24, 7-9:30 p.m. $45 members/$50 non-members

Mulefoot Pig
Watkins Cattle and Livestock Company, Ojai, CA
Crispy Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps With Radish Slaw
Pulled Pork Shoulder Sliders With Hoisin BBQ and Togarashi
Bycatch Seafood
Ling Cod Brandade Toast With Frisee and Mustard Salad
Rockfish Key Lime Ceviche
Navajo Churro Sheep
Huska Millennium Acres, Paso Robles, CA
Slow-roasted Heirloom Carrots With Whole-braised Lamb Jus
Cured Lamb With Fermented Cucumber and Hot House Tomato Salad
Chef’s Dessert
Menus subject to slight changes based on ingredient availability.

The Autry Museum of the American West is located at 4700 Western Heritage Way in Los Angeles, 323-667-2000. More information about Flavors of the Autry, including tickets, can be found here.