4.15.17 / Brooklyn / New York

At MOFAD, The Value Of Immigrants Is Illustrated Through Cuisine

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[Indian Accent’s Kashmiri Morels at the MOFAD Spring Benefit]

New York is often referenced as the exemplary ‘melting pot’ city, one which showcases the vast cultures that comprise it. This is most clear in the food scene, where New Yorkers most readily (and indulgently) experience cultural diffusion. Dave Arnold and Peter Kim of the Museum of Food and Drink are considerate of this, and as MOFAD grows, they are finding new ways to share their understanding of food culture with everyone.

At the end of 2015, they opened up the MOFAD Lab in Williamsburg, their first permanent space to present large-scale exhibits and experiment with different food-related concepts. The space debuted with a technological, sensory exhibit focusing on taste and smell, but the team had to figure out where to go from there. “We realized that first exhibition we had done at MOFAD lab was really science and technology oriented, so we wanted to tell a cultural story,”says Kim, who serves as the Executive Director, “We realized that the story of immigration and food are often the most compelling ones.” They followed up with Chow: The Making of the Chinese American Restaurant, which is currently on view at the space. “First of all it’s cuisine that everybody in the US is familiar with. No matter where you’re born or where you are, there’s a Chinese-American restaurant right by you, and you probably grew up with it and think of it as a comfort food. There’s a 170 year history behind these restaurants, and most people don’t know that.” The concept was a success, and it became clear that they were only scratching the surface. “We realized we wanted to dive into that, and more broadly look at the stories of immigration and food, and celebrate how they contribute to the overall American culinary benefit.”

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[Marcus Samuelsson’s ‘Swediopian’ dish at the MOFAD Spring Benefit]

On Thursday MOFAD hosted their annual benefit where the theme was Immigrant Cuisine, and it’s clear why that was the chosen nomenclature. Chow was conceived long before the recent political turbulence, but Arnold and Kim had to reassert their support for a dining community strongly built on the work of immigrants. The event featured Chinese, Indian, Senegalese, Caribbean, and Syrian food, among others, but still only served as a modicum of the choices Kim and his fellow New Yorkers have in this city. But he was only optimistic about the opportunity MOFAD has to engage the city going forward, even offering a hint of future possibility. “Unless you Native American, you are an immigrant. And that is one of our top exhibition topics we’d love to do in the future, looking at Native American cuisine.”

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[Syrian Baklava at the MOFAD Spring Benefit]

Food is often the most overlooked form of shared culture, and with MOFAD there’s finally a place where people can look at its intricacies. In doing so, both viewers and the MOFAD team themselves have discovered new ways of seeing the broader values and implications of cuisine within this society. In their unique position, MOFAD embraces the opportunity to remind guests of the tangible and intangible value immigrants provide to all of us. “It will be a through line for all of MOFADs existence, looking at the influence of immigrant food cultures in the US, but also in other countries. If you ask me what is American food, the response is immigrant food is American food.”

Chow: The Making of the Chinese American Restaurant is on view at MOFAD Lab through August

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