By: Courtney Dabney
If you’re a Fort Worthian, you may have skipped the stunning exhibitions that travelled across the world to make a temporary home inside the Kimbell Art Museum to have lunch at the buffet Shelby Shafer has created and shaped for more than 30 years. If you’re not a local, then you may be one of the countless tourists and famous artists, actors, writers, architects and politicians who came to visit the world-renowned museum designed by architect Louis Kahn and who dined there during Shafer’s tenure.
Shafer will retire before the allée elms on the lawn bloom this spring, but she’s confident she’s leaving her legend in a visionary’s hands.
The food has always been comforting and nostalgic of mid-century cooking with its flavorful quiches, heart-warming soups (although chilled soup is usually another option), a sandwich du jour, and parade of salads. The food is as thoughtful and delicate as the architecture of the building that houses the dining room.
While reminiscent of your grandmother’s elegant luncheons she may have hosted in years past, Shafer kept it fresh and always played with the advent of new foods and improvised the menu every week while sticking to the formula of two soups, two sandwiches, a quiche and four salads. And let’s not forget the dessert. Her fan base is extensive.
“I think, after 35 years, it would be nice for the restaurant to get some fresh blood…but Peter swore he would not take it in a different direction,” Shafer said.
A graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Peter Kreidler landed the job at the Kimbell after impressive stints all over the West Coast and in Fort Worth at Clay Pigeon and the Swiss Pastry Shop. He created the Swiss Pasty Shop’s first dinner service with a creative touch to a schnitzel-everything menu after 43 years of the landmark serving renowned baked goods, breakfast and lunch. When approached for the position at the Kimbell, he knew it was a great opportunity.
“She has done some incredible things here. What she has created I am not trying to change, yet build on what she has done,” Kreidler said.
Kreidler understands his new family at the Kimbell will give him freedom. He plans to improvise as Shafer did for so many years yet to utilize his classical training and introduce new cooking techniques to the kitchen staff. He said he has no plans to rock the institution’s foundation she built.
“People have been coming here for a long time,” Kreidler said.
Shafer started her career at the Kimbell in 1981 when the second museum director and Yale graduate Edmund P. “Ted” Pillsbury handed her a snack bar with Snickers and Pringles and such. She fashioned it after the food service at the Dallas Museum of Art because at the time it had a basic service of a soup, a salad and a dessert in its little basement. It would fit the Kimbell.
“He pretty much just threw the minimal buffet at me and said, ‘Do what you want,’” Shafer said.
Shafer was the first person to create a real dining experience at the Kimbell. The quirky and vastly admired architect had intended for a social space in the museum as respite to the sacred act of viewing art.
Her legend isn’t going anywhere, but her fans everywhere wait in anticipation for what Kreidler will bring to the plate in the new year.
By: Courtney Dabney