It’s not often that students get to create and curate a professional museum exhibit, but several University of Toronto students achieved just that by showing that a bowl of gumbo is just as Canadian as maple syrup.
Alicia Cherayil, Erin Offord, Cynthia Roberts and Zella Llerena have created a museum exhibit celebrating the history of Acadian settlers to Louisiana, which created the region’s famous Cajun cuisine.
Their exhibit will be showcased at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans in April, a striking achievement for a group of museum studies students and a strong confirmation of the value of their research.
Llerena, 34, and an American citizen, says the goal of the research was to highlight how Cajun cuisine has deep roots in Canadian culture.
“We really wanted to tell the story of the Acadian people and how they became Cajun and how Cajun food has evolved from Nova Scotia. I wanted to do an exhibit that tied Canada to New Orleans and told the story of what it means to be Cajun,” Llerena said.
Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia by British forces in the mid-1750s when they failed to swear allegiance to Britain, and many settled in southern Louisiana. Over generations, their culture overcame adversity and eventually thrived, creating a cuisine suited to their new home.
“Food is what brings people together and it brought Acadians together when they left Nova Scotia. Through it, they survived the Great Depression and modernization — it’s the story of perseverance over everything to create a cuisine that has become a huge industry,” Llerena said.
For Cherayil, 27, creating the exhibit was a great chance to put her education to practical use.
“Having the opportunity to have that professional experience is a big step for us. It really gives us the chance to apply our theories outside the classroom. I’ve learned a lot in the process,” Cherayil said.
U of T instructor and Art Centre curator Matthew Brower says the girls have definitely struck a chord with their research not only in Canada, but in the Cajun heartland as well.
“The exhibit is a celebration of that tradition of overcoming adversity and forging something wonderful out of it. It’s really a very significant exhibit and it’s already generated a lot of interest within the community in New Orleans,” said Brower.