Thursday, August 21, 2008

Field Trip: The Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson and Wales

Culinary Arts Museum and Archives
Johnson and Wales, Providence, RI

When we started planning our trip to Providence, I knew we'd have to visit this museum. I had read about it a few years ago and thought it sounded very interesting.

What a fun visit we had! If you're in the area, I strongly recommend a visit. It's right off Route 95, so it could be a great pit stop if you're heading up (or down) the seacoast.

We stopped at the Diner exhibit first. There are many items of interest in this exhibit. First, we ogled the diner counter setup. There were great milkshake blenders, signboards and neon. Road food aficionados may recognize the Moody's sign (they are a great stopping point on Route 1 in Waldoboro, Maine). The museum is currently restoring the Ever Ready Diner, a lunch car from the 1920s. The restoration area is in the exhibit, so can watch restorers at work. While we were looking around this exhibit, we met Richard J. S. Gutman, the Museum's Director and Curator. He was clearly enthusiastic about the museum and told us some interesting things about diners from our neck of the woods.

The Stoves and Ranges collection was fascinating. The museum has a varied collection of cookstoves: seeing the evolution of stoves from colonial to modern times is quite eye-opening. They've also got an early microwave (it's astonishingly large compared to the unit you probably used to heat up your lunch today). I really enjoyed observing the craftsmanship on the older stoves. They are really works of art. It almost makes you wish you could use one every day. Almost, until you think about how dangerous, dirty and difficult it must have been to cook with coal or wood on a daily basis.

There were several rooms and structures in the museum: a New England tavern (complete with fold-down bed for the coach driver), and an artsy wooden hotel bar.

There also some smaller exhibits of note: The Presidential collection was an intriguing window on state banquets held over the last 200+ years. There was a small, very interesting, exhibit on Chinese culinary tools. (Pictures weren't permitted in that exhibit.)

The collection of bread scupltures and cake decorating is intriguing. You can stare at the Victorian-style wedding cake for ages and keep finding features that delight you. (The cake is Victorian in design, but is a modern cake designed and executed by Cile Bellefleur Burbidge - great flickr set of her flowers here.)

The museum also has some really great industrial equipment like this pie crust press. I love type of equipment: it's well-designed, interesting to look at, and tempting to the imagination (how many pies could I make a day if I had one of these in my kitchen?).

I can't recommend this museum enough. It has something for everyone: you will find an interesting piece of equipment, read an inspiring story about your favorite chef, learn something new about the food you eat and how it's prepared. There are a lot more pictures from our visit on flickr here.

Mark your calendars: The Museum is hosting the third annual "Weekend of Fire" on October 4th. There will be wood-fired ovens going onsite with cooking demonstrations and yummy things to eat. Check their website for more information.

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