Food history is one of those fields where hard dates and immutable facts can be difficult to track down. Cooking and eating has been and continues to be such a part of our every day lives that records don’t often exist that detail how a dishes was created, or where a particular ingredient came from. While this makes our jobs at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum a little tricky sometimes, it also reflects the incredible power of food to cross borders and close cultural gaps between diverse communities. So what is culinary diplomacy? Scholar Sam Chapple Sokol defines culinary diplomacy as “the use of food and cuisine as instruments to create cross-cultural understanding in the the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.”
Here at the museum and the NatFAB community, we celebrate the myriad ways that cuisine can bring us closer. In our exhibits, we share stories of foodways and traditions that developed because of people bringing their own ingredients and techniques to new places and the interactions with the foodways in those locations. People can usually find some common ground over a stove or a dinner table because of all of these connections, and we see the result in the many popular travel/eating shows like those produced by the late, great Anthony Bourdain, or Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat series on Netflix.
Every Monday and Thursday (and in private classes as well) SoFAB staff connect with visitors directly by cooking a meal for them, sharing stories and a few secret techniques of Louisiana’s unique dishes. Our attendees often find themselves continuing the conversations with their lunch companions, swapping suggestions for other meals and other places to visit. On weekends, we welcome chefs from around the city and the world to share their favorite dishes with the public, creating a more intimate eating experience between cooks and eaters than is usually available in restaurants. Chefs and cookbook authors have a chance to explain their cooking strategies and how they got to be where they are today, and the guests get to ask questions about their flavors and experiences.
In 2016 the Southern Food & Beverage Museum explored the question of Culinary Diplomacy more directly with Lauren B. Bernstein, who ran the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with the U.S. State Department. Lauren shared stories of meals cooked and eaten together, as well as tastes and preferences explored through the work of the partnership. Lauren currently runs the Culinary Diplomacy Project and continues to explore the ways that chef-driven initiatives can “bring communities together in an effort to bridge the cultural divide one bite at a time.”
Beyond the South, we’ve explored prosciutto with an Italian expert, hosted representatives from Canadian food industries, wines from Europe (and our upcoming Portuguese wine class!), Indian cuisine with cookbook author Nik Sharma, and helped a bevy of French food lovers discover the best croissant in the city. We even collaborated with The Chicago Brewseum, Illuminated Brew Works (Chicago) and Urban South Brewery (New Orleans) to come up with an appropriately delicious Tricentennial beer! SoFAB is always searching for new ways to bring culinary diplomacy to life in the kitchen, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Join us for the month of November, 2018 as we spotlight Culinary Diplomacy as part of the 10 Years of SoFAB programming! SoFAB will explore the wide range of ways culinary diplomacy can bring people together from across the globe.