An exploration of the dawn of world cuisine as we know—and consume—it today opens December 7, 2012 at the Museum of International Folk Art with New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate Y Más. The exhibition runs through January 4, 2014.
New World Cuisine explores how foods around the world developed from mixing the old and the new, and how many of the tastiest dishes and desserts came to be associated with New Mexico.
The mixing of peoples and foods—the fusion of cultures and traditions referred to as mestizaje—began in August 1598 when Juan de Oñate’s 500-strong expedition of soldiers, families, and Franciscan friars settled in New Mexico.
But the ingredients for change were tossed into the melting pot a century before by Christopher Columbus when foods from the Old World were mixed with those of the new and brought improvements from farm to table.
The Old World gained new staple crops, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and cassava. Tomatoes, chili peppers, cacao, peanuts, and pineapples also were introduced, and some became culinary centerpieces in many Old World countries: the tomato in Mediterranean countries Italy, Greece, and Spain; the chili pepper in India, Korea, Thailand, and China, via the Philippines; and paprika made from chili peppers, in Hungary.
On view are more than 300 objects objects from the museum’s vast collection of historical culinary items related to food harvesting, preparation, table settings, and utilitarian and decorative implements. Some examples are Asian and European spice jars retrofitted with intricately detailed locking metal lids in Mexico City to protect a household’s cacao from thieves; traditional pottery cooking vessels reimagined by metal smiths using hammered copper to accommodate the molinillo used to froth chocolate; talavera kitchen and tableware modeled after Chinese import porcelains; fine antique and contemporary silverware from Europe and the Americas. All provide insight into the importance placed on crafting exquisite food vessels and implements—and that you are what you eat with.
“It’s such a fabulous history,” curator Nicolasa Chávez said. “We’re borrowing one little teeny tiny pottery sherd from Chaco Canyon that was tested for theobroma (chocolate’s scientific name). I wanted that in the exhibit to really bring home to New Mexico that we’ve had a 1,000-year-old love affair with chocolate.”
The exhibition, which remains open through January 5, 2014, is about cultural heritage, nourishment, and regeneration—perfect subjects to begin a New Year.