Gastronomy Museum opens in Prague
Exhibitions explore the culinary heritage of Czech and international cuisine as we know it
Posted: May 2, 2012
Enjoying duck and dumplings is one thing; now, with the opening of the Gastronomy Museum in Old Town, foodies and families can learn about the origins and development not only of Czech cuisine but also of cooking techniques through the ages.
Following the success of their Chocolate Museum Choco-Story, which opened in 2009 just a few blocks away, Ladislav Provaan and his wife, Nina, have opened the Museum of Gastronomy in the space formerly occupied by Red Hot & Blues. The maze of rooms surrounding a courtyard now contain displays about the cultivation of fire, the development of kitchens through the modern age and the legacy of the chefs that have made Czech cuisine what it is today.
"Prague is filled with restaurants frequented by foreigners and locals alike," Provaan says. "We feel it is important for restaurant patrons to be educated properly in the history of the culinary arts, to appreciate gastronomy and enjoy dining by engaging all five senses.
"In this globalized world of international gastronomy, there is a need for collecting information on local culinary arts, traditional meals and the history of food preparation."
Jakubská 12, Prague 1-Old Town
Open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tickets: 180 Kč; 150 Kč students, seniors
Aided by cooperation with CzechTourism and the Bernard brewery, the Provaans are currently putting the final touches on the museum, a process complicated by the building's historic status and necessary paperwork. At the moment, the second floor of exhibits is open to visitors, with the rest of the museum slated to be complete by mid-May. Currently available exhibits include the history of flatware, cutlery and table settings, featuring a collection of Czech ceramics and silverware. There's also a room dedicated to the world's most influential chefs and their works, such as an original copy of Gastronomie Pratique, a seminal text on French cooking written by Henri Babinski in 1907 and containing more than 5,000 recipes over more than 1,000 pages, and an analysis of the legendary Auguste Escoffier and the modern-day chef Paul Bocuse.
Another exhibit is an ultra-modern kitchen, kitted out by Whirlpool, demonstrating how far technology has come, with features like a heat-lighted faucet and a talking refrigerator.
"It is interesting because the basic elements are the same," Provaan says. "Kitchens are always about heat, a space for eating, etc."
The kitchen includes a wall exhibit about the Remoska, a table-top all-purpose stove first made in Czechoslovakia that has subsequently seen popularity abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom.
The highlight of the museum, and part of that which is already viewable, is the Hall of Fame. Established with the help of CzechTourism, these rooms take a look at famous personages of Czech and Slovak gastronomy, for example, Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, born in 1785 and considered the "grandmother" of Czech cooking; her 1826 cookbook A Household Cookery Book or A Treatise on Meat and Fasting Dishes for Bohemian and Moravian Lasses became a must-read for housewives and set a precedent for establishing a sense of national cuisine.
The museum's Hall of Fame also includes an impressive collection of international cookbooks amassed by Nina's parents; her mother, Joza Břízová, authored The Czechoslovak Cookbook (1965), and her father represented Czech gastronomy at conventions around the world, always making sure to bring home new and exciting cookbooks, which proved an indelible resource and inspiration for the Provaans.
Linked to this section are an exploration of branding and a look at how it has changed over the centuries and decades, notably changing from actual name brands to witty or vague titling.
"It's disappointing that people no longer give their brands their own names, Provaan says. "It should be a mark of pride for professionals to put their name behind their product."
The exhibits soon to be opened include a functional replica of a typical Czech pub, where visitors can learn about the process of fermentation and a brief history of the country's favorite golden beverage. This is where Bernard's partnership comes in, and the brewery will provide kegs of beer to be tapped. Another replica portrays a typical store from the turn of the 20th century, and a recreated wine cellar will explore wine-making techniques; another part will look at the distillation processes typical of Czech liquors throughout the ages, helping to explain how, for example, a good slivovice differs from a poor plum brandy. Another exhibit runs through the items of food that are particular to the Czech Republic, those that have garnered European Union protected status.
The Gastronomy Museum covers a lot of ground, and Provaan says the aim is to give people "little bites" of the history of particular aspects of gastronomy that they can then follow up on their own. Exhibits are presented in both Czech and English, with other languages available by request.
"Food preparation as well as consumption is a very unique discipline in the arts, standing proudly next to music, painting and architecture," Provaan says. "That's why gastronomy deserves its own museum."
Fiona Gaze can be reached at