Crafted Cuisine | Mingei International Museum

Mingei is now home to two culinary stops, CRAFT CAFÉ and ARTIFACT, both located within the free Commons level surrounded by cutting-edge design, exhibitions, and dynamic art installations. Celebrating folk art, craft, and design from around the world, these two venues are the latest addition to pioneering restaurateur Tracy Borkum and Chef Partner Tim Kolanko’s CUCINA family of restaurants. Beloved in the San Diego region since opening the iconic Kensington Grill, Borkum is known for presenting exceptional food and superior service in imaginatively designed environments, including CUCINA urbana, CUCINA sorella, CUCINA enoteca Del Mar, Newport Beach and Irvine, URBAN KITCHEN at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, as well as around town with Urban Kitchen Catering.

ARTIFACT’s menu was inspired by ancient methods, spices, and botanicals and boasts mouth-watering lunch options such as citrus dried chili glazed pork shoulder wraps and ash reshteh bean and noodle soup. The menu crafted by Tim Kolanko, Chef-Partner, Urban Kitchen Group, and Jeff Armstrong, ARTIFACT’s Chef de Cuisine, is a nod to Mingei’s changing international exhibitions. In a recent interview, both Tim and Jeff shared their thoughts on finding inspiration.

Chef-Partner Tim Kolanko at ARTIFACT
ARTIFACT at Mingei
ARTIFACT’s Chef de Cuisine Jeff Armstrong

Can you share a little bit about yourselves and your careers?

Tim Kolanko: The most significant influence in my career came when I moved to California to open the Lodge at Torrey Pines in 2002, and I ended up working there for 10 years. The entire concept of that hotel was based on craftsmanship, and the food was a direct reflection of that. When the opportunity at the Mingei came about, I was thrilled to work in another environment where we’d be surrounded by notions of craftsmanship.

Jeff Armstrong: Throughout my career, I’ve worked in a lot of different cities around the United States. In 1997 I moved from Arizona to California, spending time working with Tim Goodell in Orange County. Then, I went and worked for John George in Washington, D.C. After that, I hopped over to Colorado where I worked at Snowmass Place Village. And all this moving around, working in vastly different environments taught me the value of using ingredients found naturally in a region and that using local foods really is the best way to cook.

Where do you get inspiration for your dishes?

Tim Kolanko: Everywhere. The Museum is a great source of inspiration—just walking around and looking at the exhibitions sparks ideas. And also, exploring cultures and history is part of cooking, and as chefs, we take that information and translate it into a finished dish.

Jeff Armstrong: It’s a bit of a cliché but, farmer’s markets. I’m really inspired by what’s in season, which actually speaks to the craft of cooking. Using what’s in season is about place, and being aware of your environment.

Squash, collared greens, mushrooms and cranberries prepared by Urban Kitchen Catering for special event.
Ash reshteh bean and noodle soup with lentils, spinach, chickpeas, turmeric, clove, mixed herb and labneh.
Roasted local snapper with rasam, turmeric black mustard kabocha squash, cauliflower and curry leaf.
Specialty salad bowls for private event prepared by Urban Kitchen Catering

Do you have a favorite dish or ingredient?

Tim Kolanko: It’s hard to pick one thing but I really like the local snapper preparation after my recent adventures to southern India, the traditional healing rasam broth. It’s a snapshot of a place and time when you dig into the ingredients and think about their origins. A variation on comfort with a turmeric black mustard kabocha squash and cauliflower.

Jeff Armstrong: I really love some of the root vegetables and cooking in the fall. I think it’s a little warmer, richer food and the muted color palette is beautiful. Also, a lot of fall ingredients are underutilized, and I enjoy highlighting them.

What do you hope people experience while eating at ARTIFACT?

Tim Kolanko: I hope that people leave with a sense of place. I want guests to experience the philosophy of craftsmanship that is representative of the Museum. This concept and cultural diversity wouldn’t have happened in any other place—at Mingei we’re crafting dishes for the people.

Jeff Armstrong: In partnering with the Museum, I’ve learned that the philosophy of mingei is centered around the idea of beauty and craftsmanship—and we really tried to translate that into our work. From an aesthetic perspective, there is beauty in the way food is plated. And from a technical perspective, the taste and richness of the spices and fresh ingredients are all about the craft of cooking. I hope people experience and enjoy our understanding of mingei in the form of food.

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