The curator will lead the museum's "American Food History Project."

By Mike Pomranz
June 08, 2021
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America's culinary history is intimately intertwined with history at large-and not just because you can name more Top Chef winners than U.S. presidents. We typically eat three times a day-our meals reflecting all sorts of choices: social, cultural, financial. Glancing back at decades of food trends sheds a lot of light on how Americans have changed over time. And soon, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will have a curator leading the way for researching, collecting, and exhibiting this history on their behalf.

Today, the Washington, D.C.-based museum announced they'd be establishing a new permanent position-the Winiarski Curator of Food and Wine History-made possible thanks to a $4 million bequest from Warren and Barbara Winiarski.

Washington D.C., Smithsonian Castle
Washington D.C., Smithsonian Castle
| Credit: Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

As the founding family behind the legendary Napa Valley winery Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, the Winiarskis know a bit about wine history, and in 1996, the couple made their first donation to the Smithsonian to launch an initiative focusing on the history of American wine and winemaking. (The Smithsonian has a similar initiative for beer and brewing.)  Those efforts were later broadened into the "American Food History Project"-and now, a quarter of a century later, the Winiarskis will be providing funding for the museum to take the next logical step: a permanent curator.

"We are delighted and so very grateful to the Winiarskis for their vision of documenting the impact of viniculture and the evolution of American winemaking and accompanying food culture to ensure its central place in U.S. history," Anthea M. Hartig, the museum's Elizabeth MacMillan Director, said in the announcement. "Their support over the decades and this generous bequest will sustain and enhance the nuanced and central place of food and wine history for the benefit of our many audiences."

Meanwhile, Warren Winiarski spoke to the impetus behind their pursuit of documenting this history. "Barbara and I are delighted to witness the light that grew brighter from the small spark we ignited with our first gift to the museum 25 years ago," he stated. "Our hopes then focused on restoring wine to the pre-Prohibition esteem it had once enjoyed. Inspired by the opinions of our Founding Fathers when we made our initial gift to the Smithsonian, little did we envision the major, more encompassing, food history project that spark engendered. By endowing a dedicated curatorial position, we are supporting its sustainability beyond our own lifetimes and the title of the position, Curator of Food and Wine History, represents the fulfillment of our original hopes."

As for the position itself, don't rush to get a resume together quite yet. A spokesperson for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History emphasized to me that, though some of the money was donated in advance, the gift was a bequest, so the museum would be holding off on details such as a job description and a hiring timeline until the funds were actually received.

However, the museum is still actively seeking additional funding to continue to support the "American Food History Project" in anticipation of the forthcoming curatorial position by launching their new "25 at 25 Initiative: Food Fund for the Future." They're hoping to raise at least 25 additional gifts of at least $25,000 each-and they've hit the ground running with an initial donation from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.