Feast Your Eyes Tour & Tastings: Foodie Art Through the Met Museum

Our Feast Your Eyes Tour & Tastings have been getting incredible press. The New York Times, Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, and more has featured our Foodie Art Tour Through The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The one that you’ll probably enjoy most is Taste Talks. Their article sums up the experience in such a fun way. Thanks so much Taste Talks! Here’s the article…

A Foodie and An Art Buff Walk Into the Met…

Taryn Pire

Jun 28, 2016

Have you ever wondered why wine drinkers are seen as more highbrow than beer drinkers? Your answer lies in Ancient Egypt, where wealthy priests essentially invented the modern wine label. Think you’re a flip cup extraordinaire? Sixteenth-century Germans have had you beat for hundreds of years. Why are red-and-white checkered tablecloths symbols of Americana and Italian restaurants? Twentieth-century cubists played a part in that (and, FYI, it’s called gingham).

The Feast Your Eyes Tour and Tastings is a visual journey created by ART SMART, a New York City-based guided tour service started in 2001, provides guests with customized top-tier museum tours, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. The tour has been in the making for the past five years, and highlights pieces of art in which food and drink are the stars—giving tour-goers insight into foodie culture as we know it today.

If the tour sparks your appetite (and we’re sure it will), you can attend one of two tastings following the tour: a wine and food pairing led by one of NYC’s most renowned sommeliers Aldo Sohm at his namesake restaurant, or a six-course dinner with wine at chef Rachel Goulet’s Amali.

The tour is meant to be one-on-one, the intimacy allowing the ART SMART team of graduate-level art historians to personalize each guest’s experience to their unique interests. Judith Shupe Walsh, the founder and president of ART SMART, got the idea for her business while working as a lecturing fellow at the Met.

“There were about 80 people following me around, including the celebrity Dr. Ruth, kept positioning herself in the front and asking fascinating questions that related to her own interests—and that really struck me,” says Walsh. “At the time, there wasn’t a way for anyone to have their own private tour at the Met, even if they had the means or interest. ART SMART set out to change that.”

Joanna MacFarland, a Ph.D. graduate from the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, was my guide. She seemed to know everything. Literally, everything; or at least everything about the Feast Your Eyes Tour, as she conducted most of the research for it. As someone with no art history background whatsoever, I was nervous and a little intimidated when I approached the museum; but MacFarland put me at ease right away. She was engaging and informative in the most relatable way.

Walsh explains that there is something for everyone on this tour, no matter your art background. “To get the most out of it, one just needs to come forth with their passion for enjoying life, whether that be through art, food, drink, or spending time with family and friends,” she says.

MacFarland’s passion for both art and food history was contagious from the start. We spent a long time in the Ancient Egyptian section of the museum, the culture that Walsh calls the “most rewarding to weave into the fabric of the tour.” The importance of food preservation in Ancient Egypt was astounding. Ancient Egyptians wrapped and mummified poultry and other food items to take with them to the afterlife, and would construct incredibly detailed replicas of slaughterhouses, bakeries, and breweries to take with them to the afterlife, with the belief that they’d still have access to dried meats, bread, and beer.

While the foodie craze seems like a relatively new cultural phenomenon, this tour hammers home that humans have been obsessed with food and drink for centuries.

“Food, and getting enough of it, has dominated human activity for as long as we’ve been human. It is one of the common denominators of humanity,” says Kelila Jaffe, the food historian behind Feast Your Eyes.

It’s true, and very much so through art. To someone with no art history knowledge, a painting of two Englishmen sipping wine looks like exactly that and nothing more. But through ART SMART, I got a much larger picture; the political climate between France and England, for instance, must have been tame at the time the painting was made, because when the two countries were at war, French wine wouldn’t be exported to England. Instead, drinkers in England would sip on Spanish sherry until the war ended.

“If food isn’t directly driving the narrative it is there somewhere, lurking in the background, and probably more important to the story than it is given credit for,” Jaffe explains. “Caesar didn’t go to Egypt to woo Cleopatra; he needed her grain to feed Rome.”

History ripples into the present in ways we don’t often consider. When you get wine drunk and text your ex, you may be reminded of the Latin phrase In vino veritas, meaning “in wine, [there is] truth.” You can thank the Ancient Greeks for that comforting morning-after wisdom. They believed wine had the magical ability to make people speak freely and honestly; that’s why everyone feasted and drank before talking philosophy at Greek symposiums.

Or take the word “restaurant,” It comes from the Old French word for “restore.” Due to French chef guilds, early restaurateurs weren’t legally allowed to sell food to the public; instead, they sold “restorative” bone broths, which were permitted due to their classification as a health tonic rather than a food item. Once the guilds were disbanded after the French Revolution, what would become the modern restaurant started to come into fruition.

These factoids are the real backbone to the Feast Your Eyes Tour and Tastings, supported by the theory that learning about history can enrich a foodie’s understanding of today’s culinary landscape.

“Many people see art tours as a bit about appreciating something from the past and we wanted to show them that that isn’t always the case,” Walsh explains. “Feast Your Eyes‘ focus has allowed us to dwell on contemporary cultural movements that involve all the senses. This spirit really taps into our mission of focusing on each individual during the experience, so it feels natural to us.”