The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans
By Carson McGrath
New Orleans is not only a place known for creating Jazz and introducing Voodoo in the United States but for its’ food, the delicious Creole cuisine and yummy powdered beignets.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, located in Louisiana’s biggest city, aims to inform and commemorate the food, drink, and culture of the South. Liz Williams, president of the museum, said the choice of location was an important step in the beginning stages of the project.
“[We] picked New Orleans because it already has a lot of food identity,” she said.
Visitors can see anything from china from the White House, eat at restaurants and an entire interactive exhibit on Prohibition in New Orleans. The exhibit details the homes and businesses that because of the Prohibition, were subject to raids and shut down.
Williams, who refers to herself as the “chief cook and bottle washer”, said they first opened their doors in 2008, but at a different location than today, in order to get started.
The museum first opened at the Riverwalk Marketplace, which was inside a shopping mall. Because of the location, the museum could only operate during mall hours and was not a shop itself. So, in 2014, they re-opened on Haley Boulevard.
Though the museum developed from nothing, Williams said they built themselves up along the way, and with the move, they were able to expand exhibitory.
“Somebody has to drive the bus, I’m the bus driver,” she said.
History of Food and Drink
Williams believes that teaching the community food and food culture is a historical significance and can teach people of the evolution of our agricultural and technological ways.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum provides a visual aspect to learning about this history. The focus of the museum, Williams said, is to provide people with an avenue to not just read about food history, but to taste and see it.
“We provide them with lots of food for thought when they are here,” said Williams.
People travel there in order to get their educational fix on food history and cocktail history, as The Museum of the American Cocktails is located inside.
Not Afraid of Food
Unlike other museums that prohibit any type of food or beverage, visitors will not be told to throw away outside drinks, and can even venture through exhibits with food or drink in hand. Others can choose to sit down and indulge instead.
“We are not afraid of food and drink,” said Williams.
One exhibit includes the history of absinthe, named La Galeria d’Absinthe, where museum-goers can observe absinthe recipes, fountains, and spoons.
Williams said the museum’s goal is to show people how bottles, as well as containers, used to store different types of food to display the changes within our modern-day practices.
The museum not only employs staff, but many volunteers can work with the museum, choosing to improve or expand an exhibit from their own knowledge on the subject.
You can even rent out the museum for specials events or private parties, or visit The John and Bonnie Boyd Hospitality and Culinary Library located in the museum, which holds over 11,000 volumes of culinary books, menus, archival documents, etc. There is a librarian that can help you with research to find readings.
The museum also created The National Culinary Heritage Register, which is a list of things 50 years or older that “contributes to the development of cuisine or drink of America” said Williams. In order to build the register, she said the museum relies not just on staff within, but also on outside citizens to identify locations or tools.
“You can’t know every place, so it is good to have people self identify,” she said.
According to Williams, the nonprofit hopes to open up another food and drink museum in Los Angeles, while remaining focused on the regional cuisine and drink of the area.