David Arnold (left) pours rice and corn into his puffing machine.
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Snap! Crackle! Boom!

Meryle Evans - October 2013

New York City—On a balmy Saturday morning in mid-August, ear-piercing booms permeate the air in Manhattan’s Foley Square, site of both Federal and New York State courthouses. Terrorist attack? No, it’s kitchen science wizard David Arnold whacking a 2,300-pound cannon-like machine that spews out puffed rice. The contraption is the centerpiece of the first pop-up exhibit of MOFAD, the fledgling Museum of Food and Drink that Arnold founded in 2005. Titled “The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Cereal,” the display is one of a series of rotating interactive exhibitions that will examine the vital role of food in human culture.

Arnold stands atop the platform of a glass-paneled truck pouring grains of rice or corn kernels and water into the machine, a custom-made replica of the model used by generations of early 20th century cereal manufacturers to produce our all-American breakfast staple. Crowds gather to watch as heat increases and pressure builds inside the sealed machine, until Arnold’s bang releases the pressure, sending a billow of smoke and a cascade of puffed grains 10 times their original volume into a trough to be tossed with seasoning and handed out to onlookers.

It’s a spectacular way to draw attention to the behemoth of an industry that evolved from late 19th century health food crusaders’ dry, tasteless cereal to today’s annual output of three billion sugar-laden boxes.

While Arnold booms the cannon, Peter Kim, who left a law career to become MOFAD’s executive director, explains how the exhibit encompasses the museum’s mission to explore the myriad ways that food impacts our lives.

“I can’t believe this museum doesn’t already exist,” says Ted Allen, cookbook author and host of the Food Network’s Chopped, who has tracked Arnold’s multifaceted career from founding director of the department of culinary technology at The International Culinary Center to owner of the futurist cocktail lounge Booker & Dax.

Arnold, Food Arts contributing editor for equipment and kitchen science, was initially encouraged to create the museum by Food Arts late founder/publisher Michael Batterberry. Kim recalls that Batterberry’s passing in 2010 “became a rallying call to push the idea forward,” leading to an extraordinary fund-raising feast prepared by a bevy of top chefs and food professionals at Manhattan’s Del Posto (see Pilot Light, May 2011).

The participants became the nucleus of the museum’s advisory and culinary board, many of whom turned out for a gala preview of the Puffing Gun exhibit and to celebrate this spring’s kick-starter campaign that raised over $100,000.