by by Caroline Soussloff

illustration by by Alison Dubois

Food has become a constant source of public anxiety as
we strive to make conscious choices three times a day,
to eat locally, healthily, and humanely. There is merit
in all of this attention and concern, of course. We have a
national obesity problem. Agro-business harms the environ-
ment and abuses livestock. But sometimes a girl just wants
to eat french fries in peace. The Culinary Arts Museum at
the Johnson and Wales College of the Culinary Arts is a re-
freshing departure from the usual approach towards food, a
celebration rather than a condemnation.
The Museum uses history to both inform and entertain.
While the majority of visitors to the Museum are tourists,
the Museum is also a serious academic resource, cultivating
its archives and working closely with students and scholars
from Johnson and Wales and beyond. “We’re catering to
everybody who eats,” says the Museum’s director, Richard
Gutman, adding, “which should be a lot of people.”
The Museum presents food as both a professional craft
and a means of survival. The exhibits chronicle the evolu-
tions of both haute cuisine and home cooking. An exhibit
on food competitions, “Country Fair to Culinary Olym-
pics,” pays equal homage to the talents of local farmwives
and world-class chefs, while “Cultural Beginnings” discusses
the diets of Ancient Chinese nobles and peasants alike.
Gutman explains that the Museum also tries to incor-
porate ways to inspire the students as part of its mission.
Thus Johnson and Wales graduates-turned-celebrity chefs,
like the Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse (’78), are among
the faces found in the Museum’s “Pantheon of Chefs.” The
Museum honors the achievements of current students as
well. Enshrined in glass cases in “Country Fair to Culinary
Olympics” are elaborate weddings cakes designed and baked
by Johnson and Wales students for a school competition.
The cakes are the only actual food on display, and, while
aesthetically pleasing, they do not look particularly appetiz-
ing. (In fact, they have a synthetic interior, so perhaps this is
no surprise.) With some exceptions, the Museum’s exhibits
focus more on food preparation and the social and business
aspects of dining and consumption than on food itself. If
you want to feast your eyes on something mouth-watering,
you will have to go next door to the College’s kitchens.

collectors’ items
Inside, the Museum is a single, vast room. The museum map
instructs visitors to snake through the space, which is vaguely
divided into exhibits by signboards. The result is that it is
not entirely clear where one exhibit ends and another begins.
Together the exhibits tell a loosely woven story of moderniza-
tion and commercialization. It offers glimpses of the way
things were before technology and agro-business took over,
and the stages in between then and now. For example, the
gallery of stoves presents the stove’s metamorphosis from Co-
lonial fireplace to its modern incarnation with actual models,
lined up side by side.
However, the exhibits do make for a random assortment.
Walking through an 1833 New England tavern, one arrives
at an exhibit on the diets of Ancient China. The randomness
and sense of wandering can be disorienting, but it arises—
perhaps necessarily—out of the breadth of the Museum’s
focus. No other museum in the country has a comparable
range of culinary artifacts, which number over 500,000.
Some of the Museum’s arbitrariness derives from its reli-
ance on individuals’ loaned or donated collections, which
tend towards the eclectic and comprise the majority of the
Museum’s exhibits. The Museum originated as an archival
resource for Johnson and Wales students after industrialist
Paul Fritzsche donated his private collection of 7,500 rare
cookbooks, some as many as five hundred years old, to the
College in 1979. Later, chef Louis Szathmáry of Chicago’s
renowned The Bakery restaurant contributed substantially to
the Museum with the donation of his own collection. Szath-
máry’s contributions include White House documents relat-
ing to food. His collection’s hand-written notes and event
menus appear in the exhibit “Dinner at the White House.”
The Museum continues to rely on diverse private collec-
tions for source material. The temporary exhibit “Dripping
with Color: the Art of the Fruit Crate Label,” features 238
clever and colorful fruit labels, on loan from a private col-
lector. The labels date from the commercial fruit boom in
California’s Santa Clara County in the latter half of the 19th
century and early 20th century, and contain images such as
the beaming blonde pin-up girl on the Golden Girl Grapes
label, or the Waldorf Apples bellboy bearing an idealized ap-
ple on a platter. In the near future, the Museum will feature
individuals’ collections of chocolate and ice cream molds, as
well as toy stoves.

order up!
Gutman himself is a collector whose passion is the American
diner. Some of his diner-related paraphernalia appear in the
exhibit “Diners: Still Cookin’ in the 21st Century.” He has
written four books on the subject, and has worked on many
diner restoration projects. One of his restoration projects is
the Ever Ready Diner, which last operated in Providence in
1989 and now sits in the Museum.
To Gutman, the diner is quintessentially American. “I
think the diner is an iconographic presence,” he says, “You
think of a certain type of food when you think of a diner:
home-style food, and American food, but also spaghetti and
meatballs, Greek salad. America is a melting pot of differ-
ent peoples and cultures and food traditions that all come
together around the table.”
The exhibit chronicles the evolution of the diner. The
story of the diner begins in Providence. In 1872, a Rhode
Islander began selling meals and coffee out of a horse-drawn
wagon to night-workers after other restaurants in town had
closed their doors for the night. The concept was eventu-
ally exported to Worcester, MA, where the Worcester Lunch
Company began building restaurant trailers that could be
moved from location to location, catering to levels of demand
and avoiding building codes. As diners grew in popularity,
diner manufacturers shipped their products across the coun-
try via barges, trucks, and trains. Gutman calls the history
of the diner “a story of technology in that it’s a building that
is built in a factory and rolled out to its site with everything
already in it other than the food.”
Diners have evolved over time, from wagon carts to the
sleek steel models of the 1950’s to the Mediterranean-influ-
enced designs that became popular as Greek immigrants en-
tered the business. However, their menus and their presence
in American communities have remained a constant. “Each
place has its own personality,” Gutman says, “They’re part of
the fabric of our communities...everybody goes there and
everybody feels comfortable there.” Gutman is interested
not only in the story of the diner as an institution, but also
in the stories each diner has to tell.
“As I tried to gather all of these stories of these anonymous
people who have put in these long hours cooking up meals
and serving people I found that sometimes their pictures
don’t even exist,” he explains. On his desk sits a photo album
given to him by a former waitress. It is filled with black-and-
white 1950’s photographs of families, couples, and groups of
friends crammed into booths, and workers perched on stools
at the counter. Gutman calls it “an incredible document of
everyone in a community.”

“The way you eat your meat reflects the way you live.” –Confucius
The Museum relies on unexpected artifacts to piece together
culinary history. “Cultural Beginnings” pieces together the
diets and culinary customs of Ancient China from art, poetry,
and archaeology. For example, the exhibit displays utensils
and ceramics from as far back as 3,500 BCE. A reproduc-
tion of an ancient etching depicts the step-by-step process of
wine making. A poem from the third century BCE, waxing
romantic about a feast, reads, “O Soul, come back! Indulge
your appetite!”
The Museum intends to expand the “Cultural Begin-
nings” exhibit soon. “One of the things that I saw last week
[in Italy] were some petrified foods found in some tombs in
Egypt,” says Gutman, pulling up images on his computer
of a 3,000 year-old loaf of bread and a crusty gray pile of
dates that had been placed in a tomb to provide sustenance
for the deceased into the afterlife. The artifacts themselves
reside at the Museo Egizio in Torino, but the Culinary Arts
Museum will incorporate images such as these into “Cultural
“Ancient stuff could not be more relevant,” Gutman in-
sists. He shuffles through his desk and proffers a pamphlet
for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. “Using spectral microgra-
phy, scientists looked at what was in the vessels left over from
funerary banquets, analyzing isotopes and lipids and all of
these things, and recreated this beer that was in King Midas’
tombs,” he explains, “This is something I like to use as an
example. Yes, we have a lot of historical stuff here [at the
Museum] but this place is hardly a nostalgia trip.”
On the other hand, the most entertaining aspects of the
Museum tend to be the most nostalgia inducing, revealing
the humble and sometimes humorous beginnings of famil-
iar items in our lives’ today. The exhibit on country fairs
highlights the World’s Columbian Exposition, where health
fanatic Henry D. Perky debuted a machine that produced
the “little whole wheat mattresses” that were the sole com-
ponent of his diet, known to us today as Shredded Wheat.
Elsewhere at the Expo, a cake mix business hired a former
slave to give cooking demonstrations with their product.
Her likeness became the original advertising image of the
Aunt Jemima brand.
These examples point to the place packaged foods—and
the industrial food complex that produces them—hold in
Americans’ shared food culture. Like the hamburgers and
French fries found at local diners across the country, they are
comfortingly familiar and distinctly American.
Eating unhealthy foods is what Americans do. Our con-
flicted relationship with food did not emerge out of nowhere
in the 21st century, rather, as the Culinary Arts Museum
suggests, it is a matter of heritage and a part of our history.

The Culinary Arts Museum is located at 315 harborside
avenue and is accessible by the 3 bus line from Kennedy plaza.
The hours are tuesday through Sunday, 10 am through 5 am.
regular admission is $7; $4 admission with a student ID
Caroline Soussloff B’12 eats.