Gastronomy student Laura Kitchings reports on her initial processing of John Mariani’s recent gift of a collection of 20th Century menus. The finding aid she has prepared for the collection is available here.
I am always excited when my archival career intersects with my studies in the Gastronomy Program. This past month I was able to initially process a gift of approximately 300 menus, given to the program by influential food writer John Mariani, and create a finding aid using the Society of American Archivists’ content standards. More information about John Mariani and his extensive career can be found at http://johnmariani.com/.
While organizing the menus and checking the items for immediate preservation needs, I was amazed at the variety of institutions and events represented in the collection. I would see a menu for a restaurant with Michelin stars and then a menu for a restaurant serving delicious sounding barbecue a lower price point.
The menus often contain notations from John Mariani that include the dates he visited the restaurant and what he ate at the restaurant. While I was not able to spend a significant amount of time with each menu, I did find myself considering the variety of Gastronomy courses that could make use of the collection. The Food and Gender class could consider how images of women are used as restaurant advertising on the menu covers and the Food and Visual Culture class could consider how the colors used on menus have changed over time.
Some of the menus were for one-time events and show connections between restaurants while others provide a unique view of a chef at a distinct time in their career.
There are also menus for the same restaurant collected several years apart. This will allow students in the Gastronomy program a unique look into the evolution of these restaurants and consider generalized changes in the restaurant industry. This unique menu collection provides a multitude of potential research topics for both current and future Gastronomy students.
John Mariani spoke at BU on his book “How Italian Food Conquered the World” on Thursday, February 20. Slides from his talk can be viewed here.