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Museum of Food

Written by , published June 26, 2008

Sunday morning. 8 am. The topic is "Food as Art." And the venue is the self-service "gallery" in the Whole Foods flagship Austin store between 5th and 6th at Lamar. Warning: the exhibit is only good for about 20 minutes, so you have to be quick.

For the best view of the exhibit, arrive at 7:45 so you can join the early morning flurry around the coffee bar by the north door. Once you have your coffee -- the tea selection is good, too – you're ready to move past the museum guards and enter the exhibit at precisely 8 am when the rest of the store opens.

Start with the garden greens section. Note the carefully sequenced bins of bright green edamame and round peas next to glowing orange shredded carrots and red tomatoes and pinkish shredded radishes – and all their salad bar counterparts. Each bin perfectly sculpted into a neatly peaked mound. The visually ambiguous roasted fennel achieves meaning from the deep violet-red of shredded beets. Nearby, the carefully coiffed greens are adorned by flourishes and drizzles of dressing and pointillist crumbled cheese as well as other visual adornments. All spoons, ladles, and tongs are placed just so, aligned evenly – no annoying customers have insulted this precision.

The finishing touches are still being applied by the store's team members (curators?) who are hurriedly arranging the bins and vessels and condiments. The crème brulee French toast presents a smooth-textured surface broken only by a single serving spoon. A few steps away, another white-frocked attendant balances cannoli in a delectable, high-calorie criss-cross construction.

Stroll beyond the pasta counter, and you'll find 40 bins of olives (Mt. Athos green, Mt Athos stuffed with garlic, Mt. Athos stuffed with feta) and a like number of anti-pasti awaiting their futures.

You'll have to keep moving away from this colorful display, because the first customers will already be plunging spoons into these carefully designed installations, ruining the show for another day (or week). You have just a few minutes to view the carefully aligned rainbow of pastries — the lemon merigue tarts lined up next to the the chocoloate mousse bombs and the un-birthday cakes — complete confection families yet to lose one of their iced siblings to the pain of commerce.

Now it's over. All the art food is made mundane by thrusts and jabs of the hungry and insensitive who seem to think this whole presentation was just to eat.

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