Tenzin Samdo Is Taking Over the ArtScience Bar
David Edwards was a Harvard lecturer and a creative inventor when he entered, and set out to change, the culinary world—and he quickly learned that the restaurant industry affords little time to contemplate the future of food.
Nevertheless, with top-tier hospitality veterans enacting a delicious vision for the ambitions Café ArtScience and Le Laboratoire, the Cambridge restaurant impressed industry watchers and academics alike with unparalleled cocktails and global, French-inspired dishes.
But when Edwards and his colleagues got an opportunity to bring a new World Frontiers Forum to Boston, the thinker-turned-restaurateur did a little soul-searching.
“It’s gotta be true that when you come into this restaurant you’re going to have a great meal, but you also feel this frontier,” he says.
Enter ArtScience Café and Culture Lab, which debuted last month after a short, two-week closure of Café ArtScience.
A little more than a year ago, Edwards, Bob Langer of MIT, and MGH emeritus physician-in-chief Dennis Ausiello got together around the idea of bringing together pioneers from around the world—in fields like science, art, and design—for an annual symposium, based at ArtScience, on creating the world of the future. Sound exciting? Influential groups like the Paul G. Allen Foundation, the Verily Life Sciences research company, and the VIA Art Fund agree. That broad international attention came with a lot of new resources, Edwards says, and he realized he had an opportunity to do it really right, he says.
Since the ambitious ArtScience first opened about three years ago, a lot more people have experienced the café rather than Le Laboratoire, the Paris-born think tank in Kendall Square, Edwards says. With people coming in for the inaugural World Frontiers Forum this October, he is better integrating programming at the two institutions.
That means a 15-week lineup of in-restaurant exhibitions, lectures, sound and art installations, and more, including a “food opera” with the Boston Symphony, a performance by cellist Yo Yo Ma, and an environmentally themed dinner by former White House chef Sam Kass.
And today, the restaurant reveals its new culinary leadership: Bar director leader Tenzin Samdo (Tavern Road, Trade), and chef de cuisine Carolina Curtin (Haley.Henry Wine Bar, Menton). Along with pastry chef Giselle Miller, who’s been with the restaurant since last fall; new director of operations Salvatore Rappo (Eataly Boston), and general manager Mark Grande (Bondir), the young creatives will lead the “restaurant’s frontier exploration,” ArtScience announced.
Additionally, ArtScience has two new, full-time researchers at the new, so-called WikiLab, an experiment-driven science lab inside the kitchen, doing flavor work related to the restaurant’s menus.
Samdo, who is also now a partner at ArtScience, will fully leave his post at Tavern Road this fall, and debut his new cocktail menu around early September, he says. But he’s been working with beverage consultants Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli (Pagu, the Automatic) and Jared Sadoian (the Hawthorne) to rethink the drinks at Café ArtScience ever since original bartender and partner Todd Maul left the restaurant in June.
The temporary menu, which debuted late last month, makes use sensory clouds to add dynamic flavors to drinks, and other research-driven techniques. Take, for example, the new house Manhattan riff, Smoke & Mirrors—a robot called Cafe Gita delivers a cloud of marshmallow with Le Whaf, an Edwards invention, to add a dynamic additional layer of flavor to the classic.
Samdo, known for meticulous detail, global flavors, and excellent hospitality, signed on after Edwards asked him to showcase some cocktail creations as part of the cultural programming at the café this year. That’s happening, but once Samdo came on board, Edwards pitched him on “something bigger,” the bartender says. After some thinking—he is grateful for his gig at Tavern Road, he says—he enthusiastically agreed to take over the unique bar program.
“David is way, far ahead of average human. He foresees the world we’re going to live in,” Samdo says. “Me, I’m very manual. I like to build things from scratch. Basically, we both respect food and culture a lot, we respect the science behind it. It’s kind of a dream team. We both believe in creating an amazing dining experience.”
Without getting too in-the-weeds about his vision, Samdo explains the cocktail menu he’s working on, which will begin rolling out on July 25. Each drink is named after, and inspired by, an exotic animal and its latitudinal habitat. For example, Bird-of-Paradise is a tall thirst-quencher with mango, ArtScience rhum blend, almond, saffron, date palm syrup, and citrus. Pika, named for a small, Himalayan mammal, has ginger, Compass Box Artist blend Scotch, Alpine herbs, clarified lemon, and honey-lychee foam.
Samdo, who grew up in India as a Tibetan refugee, has always been inspired to work for human and animal rights and the environment, he says, and so is Edwards.
“I want to make [my cocktail program] very approachable, I want to show various flavors inspired from different parts of the globe,” Samdo explains. “We can sell a vodka and soda, definitely. But I want to have a philosophy behind everything I do.”
He’s also working with Edwards to implement an aroma delivery system—a device called Cyrano that can literally transmit smells digitally—to refine his drinks. They’re still brainstorming how that technology could best be used in the restaurant, but Samdo says it could help him in creating signature drinks for private events at ArtScience, he says. His excitement is palpable.
“There is such a dynamic energy going on, you have no idea,” he says, with a breathless laugh. “I want to have the fruit of all this hard work [we’re doing] globally advocate for all these things.”
With the food, the café is going for approachability, as well. The clientele is, unsurprisingly, a lot of grad students and post-docs, Edwards says, and he wants them to feel welcome as often as they want. That means offering a broader price range; more casual, quick options; as well as dishes that can comprise an elaborate feast. Curtin has refined her technique as chef at Haley.Henry Wine Bar, chef de partie at Barbara Lynch’s jewel, Menton; and sous chef at Liquid Art House. Her new dishes at ArtScience include a beautiful chicken liver mousse with pickled cherries, pistachio, and mizuna; and rib eye with shaved asparagus, parmesan churros, golden marjoram, and herb aioli.
“Food and culinary experimentation [are] central to our perception of cultural trends and our participation in the creation of tomorrow,” Edwards says. “I founded the café to bring this participation into the cultural conversation.”
ArtScience has the ambitious goal to be the most original, vibrant, and forward-looking restaurant in America, Edwards adds, and he’s confident in this upstart talent to continue getting there.
ArtScience Culture Lab & Café, 650 East Kendall St., Cambridge, 857-999-2193, artsciencelabs.org.