Ancient vessels and fresh ingredients: MIA and local chef team up for neighborhood boost

A woman stands in front of a restaurant's storefront
Chef Tammy Wong poses in front of Rainbow Chinese Restaurant on Eat Street in Minneapolis. The restaurant had to close its dining area with the outbreak of COVID-19 and has still yet to re-open it.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A lucky few were treated to a lavish banquet surrounded by ancient Chinese bronze vessels Wednesday night at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Guests dined inside the Eternal Offerings exhibit, a special collection of objects used in rituals to bring people together and give offerings to ancestral spirits.

The museum tapped local chef Tammy Wong, owner of Rainbow Chinese restaurant, to prepare a multi-course menu for the occasion.

Banquet table
A glimpse of the Eternal Offerings banquet held at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on April 26.
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art

While the ancient ritual objects from the exhibit came from another continent and millennia, Wong didn't have to go far to find ingredients for the banquet. She gathered inspiration from what she found at Soo Line community garden, a stone's throw away from the MIA. She’s gardened a small plot there for nearly twenty years.

In the last few years, however, the neighborhood around her plot has faced its challenges. Restaurants on nearby Eat Street — including hers — have struggled to bounce back from the pandemic. And the uprising in 2020 left scars, leaving some diners weary to return.

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A person holds a motherwort leaf in her palm
Chef Tammy Wong holds up a common motherwort leaf picked from her plot in the Soo Line Community Garden in Minneapolis. She will use motherwort in a bone broth for the banquet.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

But Wong only sees life in the neighborhood — and built her menu for the banquet around what's growing right now in the garden.

“Spring is beautiful in Minnesota, and I'm very hungry to find produce that we could put together in this menu,” she said. “And it's just poking up through the ground, and there's a lot of nutrients and health benefits to it.”

For Wong, the chance to host a banquet at the MIA was an opportunity to draw people together in the Whittier neighborhood — just like the ancient vessels on display might have. It’s something she hasn’t been able to do as regularly since she closed her restaurant's dining area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Wong and the event organizers said they wanted the banquet reminded people of all the neighborhood has to offer.

Noodles and vegetables flip in the air above a steaming wok
Chef Tammy Wong cooks an egg noodle stir fry with day lily, nettle, and mushroom -- one of the dishes on the banquet menu.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“We want people to know that this is a special place. We want more people to come to the community and to experience these things that people might not know that we have,” Wong said. “I could only do my small part.”

For Wong, that small part is turning the overlooked into something with a lot of flavor and a lot of heart.

The Eternal Offerings exhibit runs until May 21st at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.