Thursday, April 12, 2012

Can I see the menu?

As you can imagine, the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) staff sees their fair share of menus as they go about their work and social lives. Since 2004, the LRA has been collecting menus for the Southern Food andBeverage Museum’s (SoFab) Menu Project for use in research and archiving Louisiana’s and fellow Southern state's food culture, traditions and innovations.

“The LRA has contributed hundreds menus to the archive,” said Wendy Waren, VP of Communications. “At every restaurant I ask for a menu for the archive and the restaurateurs are more than happy to have their menu live at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.”
To jump start the Menu Project, the LRA EXPO featured the Magnificant Menu Contest in 2009 and asked members to submit their menus in three categories—quick service, casual dining and fine dining. The menus were judged on imagination, design and merchandising power, by members of the SoFab board in advance of the EXPO and they were displayed in a special area for attendees to view.

Menus are also collected from special dinners and LRA functions with the end goal being that this collection will be used by food historians, journalists and culinary students. Several menus are soon-to-be shared with SoFab from the Irish House, Superior Seafood and the Hudson Whiskey Dinner at the Bourbon House.
 “Menus are by their nature ephemeral, as restaurants change them daily or seasonally, printing them on material not meant to last,” said Liz Williams, President and Founder of SoFab. “People rarely save menus, unless they are marking a particularly important, celebratory meal.”

This is unfortunate as menus are often the only physical remains of a restaurant’s past. Some menus serve to remind us of dishes we will never eat again at restaurants whose doors have long been shuttered. Others serve to mark a change in a restaurant’s life, particularly those who have reopened after Hurricane Katrina.

“Their limited, but still tasty fare, mirrors the dogged determination of the citizens of New Orleans to face loss of support and lack of supplies with grace, tenacity and an unwavering appetite for good food,” said Elizabeth Pearce, Senior Curator, commenting on the menus in the exhibit, Missing New Orleans, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. “That exhibit contained menus from the SoFAB Collection from before and after Hurricane Katrina.”

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