Brooklyn is in the spotlight for food and drink again, but this time, it’s because of a museum. MOFAD lab, New York’s first museum dedicated to food and drink, opened its doors last Wednesday in Williamsburg, showcasing an interactive exhibition on the history of flavors and smells, particularly focusing on the rise and manufacturing of vanillin and MSG.
We have museums dedicated to art, cinema, dinosaurs, and design, but until this point, none had focused on Bushwick’s favorite hobby: eating and drinking. As food historian and MOFAD Advisory Board Member Jessica Harris stated at the grand opening, “food is the lingua franca of the 21st century.” It is fitting, then, that MOFAD Lab founder David Arnold and his team opened a contemporary space celebrating a contemporary pastime.
The opening exhibition, “Flavor: Making It and Faking It” takes you through the modern flavors of the food industry and questions what “natural” and “artificial” really mean, inviting you to answer with your senses. The museum is filled with smell machines you can dig your nose into, and which, at the touch of a button, release different scents, some “natural”, like pure strawberry, others “artificial,” or rather chemical, like ethyl butyrate, an ester found in many fruits (yours truly is pictured above smelling the difference between citral, citrus extract, and a whole lemon). The largest smell machine, the “Smell Synth” allows you to mix a variety of aromas from vomit to pancakes to create endless combinations (some nicer than others).
If you expect to come here to indulge, however, you’ll be disappointed. MOFAD lab is more about the history and science of food than the food itself, and what you can taste is not exactly appetizing: little tiny pellets are dispensed throughout the exhibition, such as pellets of tomato or mushroom filled with MSG, or vanilla and vanillin, to compare. Another option is citric acid. Delicious? No. Fun and instructive? Absolutely.
MSG Pellet Dispenser
Peter Kim, executive director at MOFAD Lab, stated at Wednesday’s opening, “we envisioned a museum that would show people what the links between food and our cultural identities are, the history behind food, the science and economics behind food, where food comes from, and why it matters.” Indeed, MOFAD Lab’s exhibition in its new warehouse space certainly does a good job answering all these questions, and we’re excited to see what future exhibitions will bring (and taste, and smell, like).
MOFAD Lab is located at 62 Bayard St, Williamsburg. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students, $5 for children and seniors, and free for children under 5. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.