“Foodseum” Coming to Chicago

Chicago’s first nonprofit food museum—Foodseum—is scheduled to open its first pop-up exhibit in May 2015. The Foodseum will feature interactive exhibits that allow guests to explore the history and meaning of different types of food in our culture.

Each exhibit will feature a single food type—encased meats, for instance (more on that momentarily)—and explore three essential tenets: the food type’s historical origins, its trajectory from the farm to the dinner table, and the transformative influences of different cultures on things like taste, texture and preparation. The Foodseum will eventually have an on-site kitchen to provide guests with that most essential component of the food experience—eating.

The launch of the inaugural exhibit, a tribute to the hotdog (and encased meats in general) is scheduled to coincide with the James Beard Awards in May, and will offer Chicagoans a taste of what’s to come. The temporary exhibit is expected to run through September.

The Foodseum is the brainchild of Kyle Joseph, an entrepreneur and former engineer who spent many years traveling in Europe.

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Photo by Kathy Hillegonds Photography.

When Joseph was two, his father transplanted the family from their home in Orange County, California to London, allowing them the opportunity to travel extensively. His childhood aboard trains and in small bed and breakfasts exposed him to a mosaic of unfamiliar cultures, but the thread that connected his experiences was food. At every stop, Joseph found himself enveloped by local flavors, welcomed with a warm meal that cracked open the barriers of language and culture.

“They shared who they were through their food,” says Joseph of the people he encountered.

Joseph hopes the Foodseum will do for visitors what years of travel did for him. The space is intended to be a place where people can “learn about, celebrate and be inspired by food.”

Currently, the Foodseum is an entirely volunteer-run organization—meaning it’s a labor of love not only for Joseph, but for everyone involved. Foodseum hasn’t found a permanent home yet, but Joseph is dreaming big. Consulting with the major museums in the city, Joseph learned that nearly 65 percent of museum visitors are tourists.

“Based on that number, we need to be close to tourism,” Joseph says. The team hopes to land a permanent facility in an accessible downtown neighborhood by 2017.

Joseph’s team has already assembled an impressive advisory board of venerable Chicago chefs, including Paul Kahan, Doug Sohn, Takashi Yagihashi, Matthias Merges, Ed Kim and Paul Virant. They’ve also developed strong relationships with other local food-related nonprofits, like Pilot Light, whose mission neatly aligns with that of Foodseum. And in December, they completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $30,000 to fund the first Foodseum exhibit.

“We aim to be a platform to host educational discussions and provide insights from all sides,” says Joseph. To that end, the organization will remain neutral on hot-button topics like industrial production and GMOs, focusing instead on providing visitors with a basic understanding and deeper connection to the sources of their food and its evolution. “Food is so engrained in [human] history…it’s who we are,” Joseph says. “We want to make sure that story isn’t lost.”

To get involved or to learn more, contact Kyle Joseph at [email protected], or visit the Foodseum website and Twitter account.