Cooking Up History

Turn up the heat on food history at this monthly free cooking demonstration and history program

About | Upcoming Schedule | Past Demos and Recipes


Food history sizzles on stage at the National Museum of American History

Once a month, we turn up the heat on food history at the museum’s demonstration kitchen on the Coulter Performance Plaza. Cooking Up History showcases a guest chef and our Smithsonian Food History host, Jessica Carbone, preparing a recipe and talking about the history and traditions behind its ingredients, culinary techniques, and enjoyment.  While we are not permitted to serve food from the stage, you can try a dish inspired by the demonstration in the museum’s Stars & Stripes Café after programs as noted.

Every month we cook something different, but the food we make always ties back to our exhibitions, research, and collections (some of those objects might even be brought out of storage!). As we cook, we explore questions about food, identity, tradition, and innovation throughout American history:

  • What does our love of the backyard grill tell us about American leisure in the 1950s?
  • How did our supermarkets come to have fresh tomatoes all year long?
  • Where does dinner come from for you—the oven, the microwave, the drive-through?
  • How has the advertising and marketing of food products influenced the way we eat?
  • How did food traditions brought to our shores—tortillas, sushi, kimchi, pizza—become part of the American diet?



Friday, June 30: The Chinese Kitchen Garden in America
Guest: Wendy Kiang-Spray
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen

How do three generations of a family’s Chinese gardening traditions take root in America? On June 30 we’ll welcome guest Wendy Kiang-Spray, author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, whose parents and grandparents grew food in their own traditional Chinese kitchen garden in Shandong and Hong Kong, using techniques that Wendy incorporated into her own Maryland garden, As we prepare a few dishes from Wendy’s book, we’ll explore the many ways Chinese vegetables, herbs, and spices have held significance and symbolic meaning, and how the process of planting food for one’s family is key to preserving a sense of home and tradition wherever you live. After the program Wendy will sign copies of her book, which will be available for purchase on site.


Friday, July 21: Cajun and Creole Food Traditions
Guest chef: David Guas
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen

What is the history behind Cajun and Creole cuisines, and how are they different? On July 21, we welcome Louisiana native chef David Guas of Arlington’s Bayou Bakery, and we’ll cook our way through the origins of the Louisiana Territories to explore how these two distinctive culinary traditions emerged from a commingling of French, French-Acadian, and Spanish settlers, native peoples, migrants from the Caribbean, and enslaved Africans, and how the region’s signature dishes represent its rich history. After the demonstration Chef David will sign copies of his Southern baking book, Dam Good Sweet, which will be available for purchase on site.


Friday, August 11: Julia Child's Kitchen Classroom
Guest chef: Lynne Just, Sur La Table
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen

Julia Child was a great cooking teacher and she was also an eager culinary student long after earning her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu. To honor the week of Julia’s 105th birthday, we welcome Sur La Table chef Lynne Just to prepare a few dishes from Julia’s collaborations with master chefs in the 1990s. As we cook, we’ll explore how Julia demonstrated her lifelong love of learning as she welcomed chefs into her home kitchen to collaborate on three television series. These recipes, and our conversation, will celebrate Julia’s bountiful curiosity about ingredients, techniques, and recipes outside of French cuisine, and her enthusiastic promotion of other talented chefs as she encouraged her viewers and cookbook audiences to never stop learning


Saturday, September 16: Hispanic Food Migrations
Guest chef: to be announced
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen


Saturday, October 14: Autumn Harvest
Guest chef: to be announced
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen






  • December 18: Food Celebrations – Christmas and Julia Child
  • December 11: Food Celebrations – Hanukkah after the Civil War
  • December 4: Food Celebrations – New Year’s and the American South
  • November 20: Thanksgiving Celebrations & Native American Heritage – Foodways
  • November 13: Thanksgiving Celebrations & Native American Heritage – The First Thanksgiving
  • November 6: Thanksgiving Celebrations & Native American Heritage – George Washington’s Table
  • October 30: Harvest Season in America – Oysters
  • October 16: Harvest Season in America – Pumpkin
  • October 9: Harvest Season in America – Apples and Squash
  • October 2: Harvest Season in America – Farm Fresh Ingredients
  • September 25: Hispanic-Heritage Month – Maize in the New World
  • September 18: Hispanic-Heritage Month – South America and Spain
  • September 11: Hispanic-Heritage Month – Mexican Cuisine
  • September 4: Hispanic Heritage Month – Puerto Rico and the Bronx
  • August 28: Food Movements that Changed America – Woodstock Musical Festival of 1969
  • August 21: Food Movements that Changed America – Julia Child
  • August 14: Food Movements that Changed America – Vegetarian and Alternative Protein Sources
  • August 7: Food Movements that Changed America – Sustainability in the Kitchen
  • July 31: Summertime Cooking in America – Cold Foods
  • July 24: Summertime Cooking in America – Backyard Grilling Innovations
  • July 17: Summertime Cooking in America – East Coast Seafood Traditions
  • July 10: Summertime Cooking in America – Backyard Grilling Traditions
  • July 3: Summertime Cooking in America – Southern Barbecue


Friday, April 28: The Food of Jazz
Guest chef: Rock Harper
2:00 p.m. in the Demonstration Kitchen

What is the relationship between food, jazz, and American history? In the late 19th and early 20th century, jazz spread into American life, blending many influences and finding distinct forms in each community it was played, from New Orleans to Harlem to Kansas City. We will be joined by guest chef Rock Harper, who will prepare a few dishes from America’s leading jazz communities, as we explore how each city produced unique culinary creations to feed both musicians and their audiences, and discuss how the foods that fed jazz are as improvisational, innovative, and rooted in tradition as the music itself.



Saturday, March 18: The Women Behind America’s First Cookbooks
Guest chef: Angie Lee, Sur La Table

What was the first cookbook written by an American for Americans, and how did the recipes differ from other volumes at the time? Prior to 1796, American home cooks used English cookery books, if they used books at all, to prepare meals. But with Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, we have the first formal document exploring “American cuisine,” incorporating ingredients native to the American landscape such as cornmeal, pumpkins, maple syrup, and various vegetables, nuts, and fruits. We are joined by chef Angie Lee of Sur La Table, who will prepare a few recipes from American cookbook authors such as Simmons, Mary Randolph, Eliza Leslie, and Lydia Child, as we consider the ingredients, tools, and cooking techniques in this early era, and discuss how these authors had such a profound influence on American culinary history.



Saturday, February 25: Food and the Great Migration
Guest chef: Jerome Grant, National Museum of African American History & Culture

What impact did the Great Migration have on American foodways? From 1915 to 1960, more than five million African-Americans migrated from the deep South to the northern and western United States in search of new opportunities for work and community. We were joined by guest chef Jerome Grant from the National Museum of African American History and Culture who prepared a few dishes that reflect the culinary changes that emerged from that migration and help us consider how African-Americans preserved some Southern roots as “soul food” tradition while adapting and creating new dishes to their neighborhoods.



Saturday, January 14: Changing Ideas of Healthy Eating in 19th-century America
Guest chef: Brian Patterson, L'Academie de Cuisine

Have you resolved to eat healthier in 2017? You’re not alone, but how do you define “healthy” when it comes to food? On January 14 we’ll look to history for how our ideas about diet and nutrition have changed over time. While Chef Brian prepares some recipes from 19th century American cookbooks, we’ll explore the era of Sylvester Graham, Ellen White, and other dietary reformers, whose ideas about whole grains and vegetarianism influenced the foods many Americans put on the table, at least for a time! 



Saturday, October 15: The Great American Pumpkin
Guest chef: Brian Patterson, L'Academie de Cuisine

How did pumpkin become a signature food of the fall, and of early American cuisine? Chef Brian took us beyond the jack-o-lantern to help us better understand the historical, agricultural, and culinary story of this autumnal fruit, as we explored how the pumpkin came to have such an important symbolic role in American life.



Saturday, September 17th: Cuban-American Food Traditions
Guest chef: Ana Sofia Peláez

What are the signature ingredients, flavors, and stories of Cuban-American cooking? For this program, we welcomed guest chef Ana Sofia Peláez, author of The Cuban Table, who first set out to explore Cuban cuisine as a way of tracing the stories and recipes of her grandparents’ generation. As we prepared a few dishes from Ana’s new book, we explored the complex social, political, and cultural history that has led to Cuba’s distinctive cuisine, and how the dishes prepared by Cubans and Cuban-Americans honor the country’s rich traditions. 



Friday, August 12: Julia Child in the 1970s
Guest chef: Lynne Just, Sur La Table

What recipes, ingredients, and culinary traditions was Julia Child exploring after she finished the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1970? We celebrated what would have been Julia Child’s 104th birthday with Sur La Table chef Lynne Just and prepared a few dishes from Julia’s collection of recipes in the 1970s. While we considered the aftermath of Mastering’s success and of Julia’s growing television career, we also considered how Julia’s perspective on food was changing in sync with other major shifts in American history and culinary culture.



Friday, July 8: Basque Food in America 
Guest chef: Brian Patterson, L'Academie de Cuisine

What happens when traditional dishes from the Basque lands of Europe are brought to the American West through migration?  To join in the celebration of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, we welcomed L’Academie de Cuisine chef Brian Patterson to help us explore Basque history and culture through food. As we cooked a few dishes from Basque cuisine in America that reflect the baserria (farmstead) tradition of Basque homelands in the mountainous regions  of France and Spain, we discussed how Basque immigrants to the United States influenced the ranching, agricultural, and culinary traditions of the West.



Friday, June 17: Political Barbecues
Guest chef: Albert Lukas, Restaurant Associates

What role does barbecue play a role in America’s political campaign history? Restaurant Associates chef Albert Lukas explored the significance of outdoor cookouts in shaping America’s political season with us on June 17. We cooked up a platter of Georgia-style pork barbecue and discussed everything from the science of smoking to the different types of spices, meats, and wood used. While we cooked, we explored both the regional traditions of barbecue and how they evolved, the details of who hosted, attended, and stoked the fires of political gatherings from the 18th century to the present, and how a politician’s awareness (or lack thereof) of culinary customs could make or break their candidacy.



Friday, May 20th: Lincoln in the Kitchen

What can the favorite foods of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln tell us about their differences in upbringing and their time in the White House? We journeyed to Lincoln’s childhood table on a farm in frontier-era Indiana, and to Mary Todd’s table on her family’s plantation in Lexington, Kentucky, to explore the different ingredients, tools, and cooking techniques that shaped their appetites in early life, and how those food traditions shifted when they lived in the White House during the Civil War.



Friday, May 6th: The American Story of Sushi
Guest chef: Kevin Lee, Wegmans

How did sushi go from a Japanese delicacy to an American favorite? As part of our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, we welcomed Wegmans Chef Kevin Lee, who helped us explore the history of sushi in America through a hands-on sushi demonstration. We examined the significance of the sushi technique and prized ingredients—and the long traditions behind preparation the right fish, rice, and vegetables for each roll—and considered how the story of sushi in America is as much about Asian cultural heritage as it is about culinary trends, traditions, and adaptations for the American palate.



Friday, April 8: The Mexican-American Table
Guest chef: Amelia Morán Ceja

For this program, we welcomed Amelia Morán Ceja, the president of Ceja Vineyards from Napa, California. Amelia shared with us the signature flavors and styles of cooking that she first learned from her grandmother in Jalisco, Mexico, including the art of making tortillas and salsa from scratch. As we cooked, we learned more about Amelia’s experiences as the daughter of vineyard workers in Napa, how she adjusted to American life, and how she has continued to honor her heritage with her family-run winery in the heart of the Carneros wine district.



Saturday, March 12: African-American Culinary Heritage and Museum Day Live!
Guest chefs: Alice Randall & Caroline Randall Williams

How do family culinary traditions reflect broader changes in African-American history? As part of our Museum Day Live! Programming, we welcomed Alice Randall and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams, who in their new book Soul Food Love celebrate the soul food traditions passed down over four generations of women in their familyAs Alice and Caroline cooked, they discussed how the ingredients and styles of cooking used can teach us about food’s fundamental role in history, from slavery to the Harlem Renaissance, from the Civil Rights Movement to the present day.



Saturday, February 20: Lincoln in the Kitchen
Guest chef: Angie Lee, Sur La Table

What can his favorite foods tell us about President Abraham Lincoln? Chef Angie brought us to Lincoln’s table with a few dishes from across his childhood on a farm in frontier-era Illinois and his political life from Springfield to the White House. As Chef Angie cooked up some classic mid-19th century fare, we considered the complex relationship Lincoln had to food (which he often cooked himself), and how the foods he ate during his presidency reflected his thoughts on our national cuisine in the Civil War era.\



Saturday, January 16: Foods of the Civil Rights Movement
Guest chef: Lindsay Leopold, Sur La Table

What were the foods that nourished the Civil Rights Movement? To kick off our 2016 series of cooking conversations, Chef Lindsay took us through some of the signature soul food creations that fed the organizers of the sit-ins, boycotts, and marches of the African-American Civil Rights Movement from 1958 to 1968. As Chef showed us the ways in which Southern flavor is developed—often with made-by-hand, slow-and-low cooking—we explored the history behind these culinary traditions, the importance of these foods to the students, churches, and civil rights organizations of the period, and the objects in our collection that help to tell this story.


July 3: Summertime Cooking in America
With Guest Chef Curtis Aikens

Chef Aikens cooked up some sauces, rubs, summer salads, and sweet treats that take him back to his native Georgia and to the rich traditions of the Southern barbecue and picnic. 


July 10: Summertime Cooking in America
With Wegmans Chef Llewellyn Correia and Nutritionist Krystal Register

Llewellyn and Krystal took us through the basics of marinating, seasoning, and grilling with chicken and vegetables, and we examined how firing up the backyard grill became a major ritual for summertime celebrations. 


July 17: Summertime Cooking in America
With Sur La Table Chef Angie Lee

On the 17th, we took a journey up the Eastern seaboard with Chef Angie as we prepared seafood dishes from the Chesapeake Bay and New England, and considered the long voyage of signature summer seafood such as the Maine lobster roll as each ingredient moves from coast to boat to market to table. 


July 24: Summertime Cooking in America
With L’Academie de Cuisine Chef Brian Patterson 

On the 24th, Chef Brian showed us how the backyard grill has become a tool of innovation and inspiration for the summer cookout. We explored the science and techniques behind the perfect grilled steak, and the history behind distinctive dishes such as whole grilled fish, Jamaican jerk chicken, and Middle Eastern-style shish kebabs.


July 31: Summertime Cooking in America
With Restaurant Associates Chef William Bednar

While we endured historically high temperatures, the Museum's Chef Bednar helped us explore traditions of chilling out in the kitchen with cold foods. We considered naturally cooling food and drink, and looked for methods to put summertime produce to work in cold dishes.


August 7: Food Movements that Changed America
With L'Academie de Cuisine Chef Brian Patterson

What does it really mean when we talk about grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, and farm-free eggs? On August 7 we explored the complex questions behind what sustainability really means in the kitchen, and cooked up some dishes that represent the challenges and opportunities that come with eating this way.


August 14: Food Movements that Changed America
With Wegmans Chef Llewellyn Correia and Nutritionist Krystal Register

As Llewellyn and Krystal prepared a menu of satisfying vegetarian dishes and showed us their stir-frying techniques, we looked back at the groundbreaking 1971 book Diet for a Small Planet, and considered the ways our diets have shifted toward alternative protein sources and away from meat.


August 21: Food Movements that Changed America
With Sur La Table Chef Lynne Just

This program was all about Julia Child, and her major impact on American food culture in the early 1960s. Chef Lynne prepared some of Julia’s most instructive and delicious dishes, as we discussed how Julia’s emphasis on precise techniques, quality ingredients, and the joy of cooking made the American home kitchen a new place of innovation.


August 28: Food Movements that Changed America
With Restaurant Associates Chef William Bednar

We cooked up peace, love, and memories of the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 with the museum's own Chef Bednar, as he prepared some signature dishes from the festival’s free kitchen and explored how what the festival-goers ate reflected the period’s changing notions about food access and quality.


September 4: Hispanic-Heritage Month
With Restaurant Associates Chef Alex Strong

To kick off our celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, Chef Alex Strong shared some of her favorite Puerto Rican recipes with us, both from her childhood and her time growing up in the Bronx. We explored the tremendous impact of Puerto Rican culture on American life, and the unique blend of Spanish, African, Taino, and American influences that have shaped this “cocina criolla.”


September 11: Hispanic-Heritage Month
With Wegmans Chef Ernesto Cadima

What foods and styles of cooking have shaped America’s love of Mexican cuisine? Wegmans Chef Ernesto Cadima prepared three fresh and healthful recipes reflecting different parts of the Mexican-American landscape, using distinctive tools, culinary techniques and signature ingredients that show the country’s extraordinary range of flavors.


September 18: Hispanic-Heritage Month
With Sur La Table Chef Anna Norman

What are the culinary connections between South America and Spain? Sur La Table Chef Anna Norman showed us how sweet and spicy flavors from the European Spanish culinary tradition have become part of the Latin and South American culinary landscape.


September 25: Hispanic-Heritage Month
With L'Academie de Cuisine Chef Brian Patterson and Sous Chef Angie Rosado

How is maize (known today as corn) central to the rituals and traditions of Hispanic and American life? Chef Brian and Sous Chef Angie explored the impact of this New World crop through a batch of homemade sorullos (corn fritters), and discussed the role corn has played as the edible foundation of North and South American cuisine, and the role corn has played in food culture.


October 2: Harvest Season in America

With L'Academie de Cuisine Chef Brian Patterson

How do fresh ingredients from a farm’s harvest season affect the chef’s table? We’ll have a farmer and chef in conversation, as chef Brian and farmer Greg Glenn of Rocklands Farm in Poolesville, MD discuss what’s coming off the farm in October, how Greg’s approach to “holistic agriculture” applies to raising both meat and produce, and how cooking with farm-fresh ingredients at the peak of seasonality reflects historical changes in our food system.


October 9: Harvest Season in America
With Wegmans Chef Ernesto Cadima and Nutritionist Krystal Register

How do two of our autumnal favorites—apples and squash—transform our seasonal eating habits? Ernesto and Krystal will show us the benefits of roasting up these delicious ingredients and show us some different seasonal varieties of apples and squash, as we discuss their regional, culinary, and historical significance in the American landscape.


October 16: Harvest Season in America
With Sur La Table Chef Lynne Just

How did pumpkin become a signature food of the fall? Chef Lynne will take us beyond the jack-o-lantern to help us better understand the historical, agricultural, and culinary story of this autumnal fruit, as we explore how the pumpkin came to have such an important symbolic role in American culture.


October 30: Harvest Season in America
With Restaurant Associates Chef Albert Lukas

How are oysters a seasonal food, and how has our relationship with this curious bivalve changed over time? We’ll shuck our way through the story of both wild and farmed oysters, and harvesting traditions and technologies, as Chef Albert Lukas prepares a dish that recalls the oyster’s valuable place in American cuisine.


November 6: Thanksgiving Celebrations and Native American Heritage
With Wegmans Chef Ernesto Cadima and Nutritionist Krystal Register

What would have been on the table at George Washington’s Mount Vernon? Ernesto and Krystal will take us back to 1789 and George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation with a dish pulled right from his own kitchen, as we reflect on the colonial era’s farming and cooking styles, and explore some of Washington’s innovative practices in growing and preparing food.


November 13: Thanksgiving Celebrations and Native American Heritage
With Sur La Table Chef Jordan Carfagno

What was served at the first Thanksgiving—and why does today’s Thanksgiving table look so different? Chef Jordan will prepare some foods that reflect the original 1621 Thanksgiving menu, as we reflect on the Pilgrim and American Indian traditions of both growing and cooking, the regional foods of the early American landscape, and how a three-day harvest celebration developed into the nation’s most food-centric holiday tradition.


November 20: Thanksgiving Celebrations and Native American Heritage
With L’Academie de Cuisine Chef Brian Patterson and Chef Jerome Grant of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

How did the first Thanksgiving depend on Native American foodways? Chef Brian and Chef Jerome Grant of the National Museum of the American Indian will join us to explore the rich fishing and agricultural traditions of the Wampanoag tribe, and examine ways in which their distinctive cooking techniques, ingredients and flavors sustained the Pilgrims in the face of near starvation, and shaped what we think of as the Thanksgiving table.


December 4: Food Celebrations
With L’Academie de Cuisine Chef Sandy Patterson

How do we use food to help usher in a new year? Chef Sandy will show us how to prepare a traditional New Year’s Day dish of the American South—hoppin’ John. We’ll explore the history of this Southern culinary treasure and touch on how different foods have become important symbols and elements of New Years’ celebrations around the country.


December 11: Food Celebrations
With Sur La Table Chef Joel Gamoran

How do our celebrations of Hanukkah today reflect the history of Jewish-Americans? While Chef Joel takes us through some signature dishes of the Jewish winter holiday, we’ll explore the shifting meaning of the Hanukkah story and holiday in the United States, and discover how, post-Civil War, a relatively minor holiday became a major moment of celebration on the Jewish-American calendar.


December 18: Food Celebrations
With Restaurant Associates Chef William Bednar

Where do food traditions of the Christmas season come from? For our final Food Fridays of 2015, Chef Bednar will help us prepare a fanciful Christmas dessert from Julia Child’s repertoire—the Bûche de Noël, or Yule log. As our Chef walks us through the process for making this rolled, frosted, and elaborately decorated sponge cake, we’ll consider various sources of Christmas traditions in America, and the special role that sugar and sweet treats have historically played in our holiday celebrations.























The Cooking Up History program is hosted in the demonstration kitchen, part of the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza in the newly reopened first floor, west wing. In addition to the occasional guest stars, we are proud to feature chefs from Restaurant Associates, Sur La Table, Wegmans, and L’Academie de Cuisine as onstage talent.

The ingredients used in each demonstration are a gift courtesy of Wegmans.

The equipment and tools used for this program were made possible through generous support from Sur la Table, Le Creuset, John Boos, Joseph Joseph, KitchenAid, Kitchen IQ, Silpat, SC Johnson, Tovolo, and the following Sur La Table vendors: All-Clad, Chicago Metallic, Cuisinart, Cuisipro, Fat Daddio's, Fortessa, Global, J.K. Adams, Kuhn Rikon, Lodge, Matfer, Messermeister, Microplane, OXO, Pyrex, Rosle, Scanpan, Schott Zwiesel, Shun, Wusthof, and Zwilling J.A. Henckels.



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