Meet SoFab – aka Southern Food and Beverage Museum
About a year and a half ago, I became involved with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFab) when they published my story Slow Cooking, Jazz and Political Acts, on chasing down a recipe for Okra Gumbo et al, in OKRA, their online publication. The involvement escalated, and a few months after that, I was asked to write monthly articles for OKRA. Philip Dobard, vice president and director of their media projects (SoFab Media)- and fellow NOLA expat living in Los Angeles, saw the articles and looked me up. We met at a coffee shop in Hollywood one afternoon last summer, and Philip laid out the big plans he and the others have for SoFab projects.
Last spring, when I was in New Orleans, I visited the museum, and had a chance to meet Liz Williams, director and founder of the museum, and Joe Sunseri, its business manager and archivist. And, of course, since I now write a monthly column at OKRA, I have developed an online relationship with Stephanie Carter, OKRA’s editor- lovely, food obsessed Southerners, all of them.
Last weekend, I invited a few of my food obsessed L.A. friends over to meet Philip, and hear him speak while sharing a luncheon which included some favorite dishes from local southern cuisine eateries.
We dined on gumbo from Bourbon Street Fish (I once described this place as a dive, for which I quickly tried to apologize, when my mother said to me “that’s all right, dives are a good New Orleans tradition!”), and macaroni and cheese from Ms. B’s M &M Soul Food, in Inglewood. There was fried chicken from Popeye’s (hey, for the price, you just can’t beat it!), and Norwood Clark- owner of Uncle Darrow’s in Marina Del Rey sent over a pan of his much beloved by me potato salad. Norwood is a good friend and another New Orleans expat, who’s always willing to help out causes having to do with our hometown. He was an active participant in our LAHelpsLA fund raising event in 2010. And finally, I fried up yummy Gulf oyster and shrimp, sent from the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board (big thanks to them!), for po’boys (that quintessential NOLA snack) assembled in my kitchen. Oh, and to wash it all down, there was an assortment of wonderful wines brought by Nancy Fishgold, PR rep for Kendall Jackson, who I met last year at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.
Philip gave us a brief history and overview of SoFab, currently housed at the Riverwalk, but about to move to its much larger new home along Oretha C. Haley Boulevard, which was once home to Dryades Market- a bustling open air market established in the 19th century and surviving into the mid-20th century. The boulevard is now home to a growing culinary district, with upscale groceries, a dairy, a bakery, Café Reconcile (a training ground which prepares at risk youth for careers in the restaurant industry) and numerous restaurants.
Some of SoFab’s programs and exhibits- well, there are a lot of them- their interests range from food history and culture,to issues of hunger in America, as well as food sustainability and justice- but I’ll give you just a few highlights:
- They’ve recently acquired the Frances Kuyper Cake Collection (footnote-back in the day, I took a couple of cake decorating classes with the legendary cake decorator and teacher, myself).
- SoFab also houses The Museum of the American Cocktail– you do know the cocktail is a NOLA invention, right?
- There’s a rooftop garden.
- The Culinary Library, owned by SoFab, and jointly operated with the New Orleans Public Library, will be housed at their new space.
- Then there’s Nitty Grits, the world’s first online culinary dictionary, now being developed.
- And when the new museum space opens, there will even be a working food production facility that will serve as a resource to developing culinary artisans, spurring further culturally based and creative economic development.
I urge you to visit SoFab when you are in New Orleans, and in the meantime, get to know them through their website and newsletters.
Oh- and here are a few pics I took on my visit.