New, Return, Rebirth: Innovation on Your Plate at the Smithsonian Food History Weekend October 22-24, 2015

There was more to the Smithsonian Food History Weekend than I was privy to.  Too bad, but the Gala at which the first Julia Child Award was (fittingly) bestowed upon Jacques Pepin was beyond my price point.  There was plenty more that was more accessible (i.e., free!).

On the Friday, a full day of Food History Roundtables covered the landscape of food production: culture, farming, business, and preparation each had a session.  Discussion among thoughtful and diverse panelists, book signings, and schmoozing made it a satisfying day.

There was a special lunch arranged at the Stars and Stripes Cafe which I elected to forgo in favor of the farmers market across the street in the Reagan Building courtyard.  In hindsight, I should have resisted its siren call, because it was more of an outdoor food court than a farmers market.  Live and learn!

L to R: Paula Johnson, Andrew Smith, Krysta Harden, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

L to R: Paula Johnson, Andrew Smith, Krysta Harden, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Session 1 discussed today’s food culture.  Issues included the Web, farm machine automation, “modernist cuisine” (nee molecular gastronomy), food waste, and the carbon footprint involved in food transportation.  Tuna can be caught off Boston, shipped to Tokyo, and sold back to a restaurant in Boston.  Is this sustainable?

L to R: Peter Liebhold, Nikiko Masumoto, Malik Yakini, David Mas Masumoto, Zach Hunnicutt, Kathleen Merrigan

L to R: Peter Liebhold, Nikiko Masumoto, Malik Yakini, David Mas Masumoto, Zach Hunnicutt, Kathleen Merrigan

Farmers dominated Session 2.  Farming issues and practices such as drip irrigation, remote control of equipment, and defining small fruit size as a cosmetic defect; the price of land and machinery; and lack of entry points for young farmers were discussed.

L to R: Kathy Franz, Seth Goldman's Tea, Seth Goldman, Dorothy Neagle, Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez

L to R: Kathy Franz, Seth Goldman’s Tea, Seth Goldman, Dorothy Neagle, Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez

Pop quiz! Can you identify the “TeEO” of Honest Tea?  Hint: he’s the one with the bottle that isn’t water next to him.  Session 3 was all about innovation in food-related businesses.  Aspects included breaking into the business, social responsibility, and disruptive trends such as direct delivery thru Web ordering.  I remember “direct” milk delivery – everything old is new again!  Thus the theme of New, Return, Rebirth emerged, especially strong in this and…

L to R: Rayna Green, Jessica Harris, Darra Goldstein, Mariano Ramos, Judith Dern

L to R: Rayna Green, Jessica Harris, Darra Goldstein, Mariano Ramos, Judith Dern

Session 4, when we learned that Allrecipes can follow trends so closely that they know when it snows in the Southwest, because the searches for snow ice cream peak!  But Jessica Harris pointed out that the European tradition of relying on written recipes leaves us in danger of losing the human touch in teaching cooking.  African cooks rely on oral tradition, and riffing on recipes like jazz musicians.  She injected a needed bit of global perspective into the day.

Back to NMAH I went on Saturday, to the Food History Festival.  There was way more going on than one person could cover.  Cooking demos, book signings, tours, movies, activities for kids and grown-ups, artifacts on display – everything except the actual object of the day: gratifying one’s sense of taste.  If you thought you were going to get some of what the chefs were cooking, the films were showing, the end result of the processes the artifacts were used for, the books were about… you were sorely mistaken.

No, wait, you could buy it in the cafeteria!  And, in fact, to make up for yesterday’s miscalculation, I headed there for lunch.  Instead of a special set menu, there were some dishes incorporated into the cafeteria choices “inspired by” the demo chefs.  I indulged in a nice piece of Ancho Coffee Roasted Sirloin with onions from the BBQ station.  The steak was big enough to split between two of us.

Indulgent Lunch

Indulgent Lunch

NMAH has a brand-new demonstration kitchen across the lobby from the big FOOD exhibit.  It’s nice – there are built-in video screens so the audience can see everything the chefs cook.

Waiting for the "Barn Doors" to Open

Waiting for the “Barn Doors” to Open

Pati Jinich showed us how she makes salsas and guacamole.  You can add things to guacamole if you want, but she likes it very simple, and she makes it in her molcajete.

Pati and Her Molcajete

Pati and Her Molcajete

 

She gave a shout-out to her parents, in the audience,

Pati's Folks (Center)

Pati’s Folks (Center)

and mentioned that she didn’t like the shortening “guac,” because it sounds like something rude in Spanish.

The other demo chef I caught was Naftali Duran, who made two kinds of tacos.

Chef Naftali Duran

Chef Naftali Duran

As Close As You Can Come To Tasting

As Close As You Can Come To Tasting

In between, I showed up at the FOOD exhibit for a tour conducted by curator Paula Johnson.  I could only stay for the beginning because I had to meet my daughter for lunch, but I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with Julia’s kitchen.

Through the Pegboard Wall

Through the Pegboard Wall

 

And I noticed a detail I had missed on my other visits: a magnet with a Kliban cat affixed to the wall.  These cat illustrations were popular back in the 1970’s, on posters, mugs, and sure enough, magnets.  I was delighted to know that Julia shared my affection for this one, especially because it’s a little edgy.

Julia's Cat Magnet, At Right

Julia’s Cat Magnet, At Right

 

It’s faded, but I know what that cat with the guitar is singing:

Love to eat them mousies,
Mousies what I love to eat.
Bite they little heads off…
Nibble on they tiny feet.

I know because I have a mug with the same motif.

After lunch, I went out to the Victory Garden.  On the way, I passed a station where a Smithsonian staffer was engaging with patrons who might have been born after some of those “artifacts” had gone the way of the dinosaurs.  I remember those ice trays!

 

Artifacts From the Last Century

Artifacts From the Last Century

There was a lot going on outside.  The garden itself was a little tattered, as the season was winding down.

Victory Garden

Victory Garden

The hop harvest was in, and the public was invited to help pick the hops off the stalks.

Hop Harvest

Hop Harvest

King of the Hops

King of the Hops

The flower pounding activity was popular.  In this craft, flower impressions are made in squares of muslin by application of brute force.  It’s fun, and can be quite artistic.

Artistic and Theraputic

Artistic and Therapeutic

All Her Aggrevation Is Gone

All Her Aggravation Is Gone

The garden contains a wide variety of plants that have been used for food and other purposes.  I found a few Baltimore fish pepper plants hiding under an edible hibiscus.  I didn’t know the pepper plant leaves were variegated.  What an attractive little plant!

 

Pretty Little Pepper Plant

Pretty Little Pepper Plant

There are already plans, and  a date reserved, for next year’s Food Weekend: October 27-29, 2016.  It’s on my calendar!

About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website (olneyfarmersmarket.org) on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
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One Response to New, Return, Rebirth: Innovation on Your Plate at the Smithsonian Food History Weekend October 22-24, 2015

  1. Pingback: Smithsonian Food History Weekend 2016: Bigger and Better, With Foodie Celebs - Part 2, Saturday: Food History Festival -

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