The North Texas suburbs aren't what they used to be — and, that's a great thing when it comes to culture.
An abundance has been written on the subject of D-FW's changing demographics. Much of it has focused on out-of-state transplants enticed by companies like Toyota to North Texas' relatively inexpensive neighborhoods. Other thoughtful analysis has discussed millennial flight from rising urban rents and big-city pace.
But, one upcoming date-night event in the 'burbs emphasizes the cultural contributions of a steadfast art community that has thrived in a once-sleepy hamlet just 30 miles north Dallas.
The five-night dinner series, which is being filmed and pitched as a travel-art-food program, potentially for national TV, involves multi-course menus by hotshot local chefs served within art installations designed by homegrown visual artists.
"Art cocoon" is the arresting phrase film producer Scott Browning is using to describe his vision for the sophisticated dinner party engulfed by fine art. He'd love for it to be on a network like PBS, but it's too early to tell where it might land.
Browning is a California native whose background is in feature filmmaking, and he chose North Texas as the series' first subject of exploration because he has connections here — his two sisters. His hope is to show America's "three coasts," so his next two stops are Lancaster, Penn., in August and Southern California in the fall.
Browning has already been here before: to Fort Worth to film for the same series last spring. The filming this time, in McKinney, is expected to be the only D-FW footage Browning uses. He says it was difficult to get his arms around Fort Worth, a community that's large, dynamic and diverse. He considered the Fort Worth event a test.
McKinney is pretty much perfect, Browning says. He believes the "unique by nature" burg is a shining example of unexplored artistic and culinary contributions, pulsing vibrantly in spite of — or because of — its flashier neighbors to the south.
If there's meat behind that claim, it may be most immediately evident in the food. In 2016, Éclair Bistro became the first McKinney restaurant to be invited to participate in DFW Restaurant Week's 20-plus year history.
For A Night of Artists and Chefs, Éclair Bistro executive chef Aaron Thomas has partnered with Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen and Butcher Board executive chef Jason Ferraro — whose resume includes a stint in the Dallas Museum of Art kitchen — and Rye Restaurant executive chef Taylor Rause.
They have created a menu that includes dishes such as smoked citrus pork collar with spent grains from Tupps Brewery and green pumpkin seed mole and brandy truffle s'mores with toasted homemade marshmallows.
Browning hired high school students Ally Tauber, Karsyn Gorman and Jordan Gros to capture b-roll video in an effort to see the town through the eyes of its young residents. The episode will also feature Community Lifeline Center, a charity that helps needy folks in North Texas.
The biggest difference between the Fort Worth test and this McKinney reboot relates to art: Browning asked local artist Anne Royer to put together a team to create an art cocoon installation that feels cohesive. Many were colleagues and friends from the Cove, a cooperative exhibition space.
Early glimpses of its execution seem refined and renewed, which seems appropriate given its unofficial theme: metamorphosis. Imagine a red and orange phoenix rising from the brushstrokes of an abstract painting and presiding regally over the tabletops — that's a brief description of Royer's piece of the installation.
Royer first reached out to Melissa Patrello, owner of StageWorthy Arts Studio, for the project. Patrello designs and produces intricate puppets and props for theater — think Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors, for example.
At the art cocoon installation, Patrello has been charged with creating large-scale, 3-D sculpture elements that "fly off" of the other artists' paintings and photographs, Royer says. Her knowledge of movement (and visual awe-making) will help bring large-scale paintings, photographs and digital media by Kim Guthrie, James Mason, Barbara Mason, Teresa Krieger Leo Malbeouf to multidimensional life. Each artist will create at least one 4-foot by 6-foot piece.
"We've all tuned our instruments, so to speak, for this event," Royer says. "I said, 'Let's do something so unique that has never been seen in McKinney before.'"
Almost all of the artists involved in the show have roots in McKinney — some for decades. Each year, the city's annual juried art competition Unique By Nature tends to surprise out-of-town judges. Royer says they often comment on how they have never seen certain techniques being used in McKinney artists' pieces.
If America has yet to formally meet D-FW's unique-by-nature northern province, Browning hopes his event may help put McKinney on the artistic map.