When Dave Arnold — the director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute — visits a museum exhibit on Vietnamese markets or Russian goblets or 17th century kitchens, he’s left with one desire: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually taste and eat?” If as part of that ordinary exhibit floorplan, he suggests, there was room for a real Vietnamese food stall or Russian blini maker shipped in intact from their mother country, the same way museums bring in whole rooms and other living artifacts.
In fact years back, Arnold was already so into the idea of launching the city’s first real international Museum of Food and Drink (or MOFAD) that he gathered a board of culinary luminaries and started the official museum charting process, which, he notes, is fairly intense: “You can’t just call yourself a museum.”
But the idea fell by the wayside for various reasons, and Arnold (who when working on his MFA at Columbia University created an oven with glass walls) decided to take a job at the FCI to gain a bigger foothold in the city’s food scene, with the goal of helping advance his chances of getting his museum off the ground. Now that he’s done exactly that — the man’s skills with culinary and mixology technology have earned him his own Wikipedia page — and he’s joined with Patrick Martins, co-founder of Heritage Foods USA to get MOFAD in motion.
As you can imagine, a new museum costs millions. And Arnold and Martins envision the place as not just a science and technology station (Arnold’s passion) or a place to ponder sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry (Martin’s business) but a fully three-dimensional museum covering how food intersects with culture, art, literature, sociology, nutrition, history, religion and on and on around the globe. While there’s no telling what will happen when, Arnold’s hopes are to have the first iteration of the place — maybe 15,000 square feet — up and running by 2015. But his first goal is to raise enough money to make it happen, starting with the cash to hire an employee to manage the fundraising, location scouting and chartering process over the next year.
Happily Arnold and Martins have put together a first-time fundraiser dinner on March 27 that should prove their seriousness. It’s at Del Posto, and features food and drink from some of the country’s best mixologists and chefs, like David Chang and Mark Ladner and Wylie Dufresne and Audrey Saunders, all of whom have to cook to some important point in the history of eating, like “ancient Rome,” “cave man food,” or “fad diets.” It’s also a serious price: $250. But we think the once-in-a-lifetime-meal will likely be worth it museum or no — especially when you get to walk into MOFAD in four years and brag to your friends that you were there when it was all just a dinner and a dream.