Our museum’s yearlong focus on food has its perks — like deep conversations with celebrity chef Carla Hall. It all came about as we brainstormed creative ways to develop COVID-19-safe programs inspired by our current exhibition, “Food for the People: Eating & Activism in Greater Washington.” As a result, we set out to design a food adventure in a box that sends adults and families on a surprise-filled journey around D.C. Essentially, we’re turning the city into a museum!

When we thought about adventure and food, Carla Hall’s name was one of the first to come to mind. Her personal motto is “Say yes, adventure follows, then growth!” Living true to her creed, Carla says “yes” to lots of adventures. She famously appeared in Season 5 and Season 8 of the reality TV series “Top Chef.” She was also a co-host of “The Chew,” an Emmy-winning food talk show that ran for seven seasons. And close to our Smithsonian heart, she also helped design the menu at the Sweet Home Café in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

When she signed on to be the subject of our “Urban Adventure Kit,” my team was thrilled. We interviewed Carla for a total of three hours, asking her about the important places in D.C. that helped shape her philosophy of food. We discussed everything — big turning points in her thinking, early career choices, and food memories. And we connected her stories to the D.C. places where they happened. So, participants will walk in Carla’s shoes as her culinary journey unfolds.

Carla was just as fun and down-to-earth in person as she is on TV. She came to the museum with a big smile on her face wearing workout gear — as if she were ready to sweat out her memories! The conversations we had made me realize how much a person’s worldview is informed by specific moments — these experiences that happen as a result of decisions we all make. I thought about my own life choices. And I think she was figuring things out about herself too. “Have you always been proud of being Black?” I asked. “Oh, Howard did that, 100%,” she said. “It was more Black people than I had ever seen in my life!”

We captured Carla’s food stories on audio. But participants will have to find the QR codes around town in order to access the audio. First, we’ll mail people a box. Inside the box Is an instruction booklet with a set of puzzles to solve. Carla loves puzzles so it seemed fitting to make this a bit of a challenge. After solving the puzzle to get each D.C. address, adventurers will pack certain items for the trip and head off to that location in search of a QR code — those little computer-generated squares that you scan with your phone. Along the way, there will be food to sample and challenges to try. We’ve even included a pair of signature “Carla glasses” so that participants can literally see the city through her eyes.

This type of outside-the-museum adventure is a first for us but it won’t be the last. Chef and humanitarian José Andrés will be the subject of our next culinary journey! We’re on a roll and we hope our audiences agree. We are embracing a lesson learned during the pandemic — that meaningful and fun experiences designed by museums don’t have to take place in the museum. Here are the details:

Urban Adventure Kits will be available starting Oct. 14.
Pay what you can, but the suggested donation is $50/box.
The program ends Dec. 31, 2021.
For more information, visit anacostia.si.edu beginning Oct. 14.

Did you like this story?
Would you like to receive articles like this in your inbox? Free!

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *