If you’re caught stealing an original Andy Warhol or Piet Mondrian artwork, you’ll probably go to jail… unless it’s cake.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a cafe on its fifth floor which opened in 2009, hosted by Blue Bottle Coffee. The cafe served Blue Bottle Coffee, of course, but it quickly became known for something else, something particularly distinctive: its cakes.
The co-owner of the company, Caitlin Freeman, was a trained pastry chef, and she decided to make something special and distinctive for the museum. She designed cakes which emulated the styles of famous artists. The idea was a success, and a success far beyond what she’d dared hope. While all of the cakes received positive reviews, the Mondrian cake – created to recreate Piet Mondrian’s distinctive style of bordered squares and rectangles of various colors – was raved about internationally.
The reception led to Freeman releasing a cookbook explaining how to make her distinctive recipes.
At this point, it’s a simple tale about an unusual cake. But a turn was taken for the worse. The SFMOMA closed in 2013 for renovation, temporarily shuttering the cafe. It reopened in 2016, and visitors were once again able to taste Freeman’s beloved creations.
She wasn’t making them anymore, though.
A new lease had been granted to the renovated fifth-floor cafe, but Blue Bottle did not have it. Instead, the contract had been given to their crosstown rivals, McCalls Catering. McCalls ushered in their own menu, with one exception: they kept producing Freeman’s distinctive cakes.
Copyrights are unusually difficult to attain in the culinary world, and in this case she’d published the recipes herself, so there was no redress the Blue Bottle chef could rightfully seek… a situation she acknowledges. She summed up her feelings during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It’s so tacky and so gross, but there’s kind of nothing I can do about it,” said Freeman, with a laugh. “I guess I just have to feel good that I wrote the goddamn book on art desserts.”
Question of the night: What’s your favorite museum?