Museum of Chinese in America/Food Exhibit

Chinese Food exhibit

Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy; Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America weaves together complex stories through a dynamic video installation featuring pioneering chefs, and banquet setting created but notable contemporary Chinese-American ceramist. Museum Environments worked with curator Herb Tam and exhibit developer Andrew Rabatta to produce a truly innovative exhibit format. The combination of elements has a welcoming poetic effect of a grand table along with heartfelt and informative stories of food in cultural life.

Table design with artist ceramics

Big Idea: The curator Herb Tam had the brilliant idea of creating a large banquet table and populating it with ceramics representative of the different regional Chinese cuisines. The execution of the concept followed through on the welcoming character of the big idea. The message was that regardless of your prior knowledge and cultural background your are welcomed at the table. 

Engagement with content

Engagement: An institution’s relationship with the visitor is at the core of its mission. Exhibits are conversations with the audience that forge this relationship. The design strategy for the exhibit was to provide different means of communicating the content and establishing the conversations with each other sitting at the same table. 

Storytelling: The exhibit is not just about food but the stories of the chef's inspirations and challenges. Apart from the video interviews on the walls, booklets display biographical content along with a map of their journey. 

Table display

Co-Creating the exhibit with artist: The ceramic food sculptures, created by artists Lu Zhang and Heidi Lau, represent a traditional Chinese banquet. In creating a visual representation of each region, the artists were strongly influenced by the area’s climate, landscape, and built environment, as well as its effects on raw ingredients and taste.

Exhibit's Graphic Identity: A consistent graphic identity was created for the exhibit throughout all communication material. We preserved the bilingual typographical lock-up at all levels of the design, from exterior banners to title walls and brochures.

Press reviews of the exhibit

The Paris Review: 

Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy

The Food and Wine Magazine:

The Personal Stories of Chefs, Ceramics and Chinese Food in America at MOCA’s “Sweet Sour Bitter Spicy” Show