Review: MOFAD: A conversation on Experimental Design Tues Jul 19, 2016

Bottom Line: What does it take to create a museum from scratch? Moderator Paola Antonelli from the Museum of Modern Art,  Emma Boast of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD), Ryan Dunn  and Wyeth Hansen of LABOUR creative design discussed their collaboration on Flavor: Making It and Faking It, currently on view at MOFAD.

Flava Flav! The interactive Flavor Station at MOFAD © WhereNYC

Flava Flav! The interactive Smell Synth at MOFAD © WhereNYC

Review:  One of New York’s newest museums, MOFAD’s story began over a decade ago and united an unlikely group of individuals. They found a common mission to educate the public about food and drink.

 © WhereNYC

Turnout was impressive © WhereNYC


Panelists Ryan Dunn, Emma Boast, and Wyeth Hansen

Far from being foodies, Ryan Dunn and Wyeth Hansen of LABOUR had different career aspirations. One wanted to be a painter, the other studied industrial design. And according to Mr. Dunn, neither were really foodies. Their interest in design led them to collaborate with program director Emma Boast and MOFAD’s visionary team, designing exhibits connecting themes of food, science and technology.

“In order to become real, you have look and act real.” – Wyeth Hansen

Mr. Hansen, Ms. Boast and Mr. Dunn along with others created a series of exhibits to generate interest in the museum. Using a special machine, they could puff up the grains. It was a big hit with students who had never seen this process, let alone cereal being made.

Hugh at the Smell Snyth

Hugh at the Smell Synth ©WhereNYC

Visitors toured the museum before the event began.

Visitors toured the museum before the event began.

MOFAD’s most recent expo Flavor: Making It and Faking It explores the $25 billion dollar industry of simulated and natural flavoring . Made up of several exhibits, LABOUR helped MOFAD designed the layout and logo.

Can you name the components of cola flavor? ©WhereNYC

Can you name the components of cola flavor? ©WhereNYC

© WhereNYC

Design of the logo reflecting the complexity of flavor © WhereNYC

Both Ms. Boast and Mr. Hansen admitted that it has been a learning experience in creating exhibits from scratch that could reach the public. While larger museums in New York can rely on name recognition, MOFAD is a much smaller operation.  Its team, nevertheless, has learned to maximize on its available resources.

Though the museum has few full time employees, its many volunteers who play the role of educator and reporter. By interacting with guests and exhibits, volunteers like Calvin and Erik said they can advise the museum on areas that need improvement. They took me around to test out my skills of flavor making on the interactive simulators. For a first timer, I was stunned how many layers of aromas needed to make that familiar cola smell. It suddenly became clear: what you smell affects what you taste.

When it came to guessing which aromas were real and simulated. I was stumped. What is real? I wondered. When the food and beverage industry say “natural flavoring”, it could be taking an extract that is “essential,” or derived directly the from the ingredient. My favorite was the ripe banana smell from the flavor simulator. All you need is “fresh banana”, “nail polish remover” or acetate and “booze” – which I took to be like a rum. Strangely all three ingredients made that familiar tropical banana smell. I’ll think twice before I order a banana daiquiri!

Towering snacks. Unhealthy, perhaps, but many of them have natural flavoring. ©WhereNYC

Towering snacks. Unhealthy, perhaps, but many of them have natural flavoring. ©WhereNYC

It doesn't grow on trees! ©WhereNYC

It doesn’t grow on trees! ©WhereNYC

It doesn’t grow on trees! What goes into making a mass produced aroma has also capitalized on its outreach, working with several different institutions, individuals and schools. It has successfully made its mark in several different areas including: a collaboration with the Rubin Museum on Himalayan cuisine,  The Future of Protein dinner with Toronto-based One Hop Kitchen and its March fundraiser with food science author Harold McGee.

Exit through through the MOFAD gift shop . Note Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking © WhereNYC

Exit through through the MOFAD gift shop . Note Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking © WhereNYC

In spite of this great start, there is still new territory to cover and new crowds to draw in. Mr. Hansen said that LABOUR and MOFAD also must think of how to democratize the museum’s outreach. It is not an easy thing to do, but bringing in schools, as Ms. Boast said, has had impact.

Moderator Paola Antonelli warned, however, that museums must not appear “elitist” and maximise on diversity, which many institutions, according to her, tend to ignore. Maybe the food world is full of “white guys (on TV) chewing stuff,” as she put it. Like MOFAD perhaps, television gastronauts: Anthony Bourdain, Keith Floyd or Gordon Ramsay have also gotten people to think about what they’re eating.

Flavor: Making It and Faking It is currently open to the public. Visit MOFAD for more information.