Museums and creative industries. Food we cook by Estonian National Museum


Food We Cook. Description 

Food culture has been a central research topic at the Estonian National Museum for more than 100 years, with the museum collecting food-related objects, photograph, videos and other archival materials. The collecting campaign is especially focused on regional peculiarities.  

In recent years, the collecting and the research on modern food culture has expanded, in response to a rising public interest. The fundamental concern is with using the culinary past as a means of strengthening national and regional identities, all the while rendering it attractive in the contemporary context and reflecting the increased awareness in society.

In 2016, as part of the new permanent display, an exhibition entitled Food We Cook was opened. This studied food culture through tradition and renewal, through the lenses of everyday life and from the viewpoint of professional gastronomy. This became the springboard for a cooperation project that started in 2017 between the museum curators and entrepreneurs. This sought to use local food initiatives and networks to help to distribute the knowledge held by the museum on food heritage, especially that concerning the historical and regional peculiarities. A variety of regional food culture events, seminars, lectures and cooking workshops were organised, to help promote regional food culture and support small enterprises to use local food heritage for product development.

The Estonian National Museum has good visitor numbers, and uses its restaurant and cafeteria to promote local food products and to host public food events, such as regional food culture days, associated conferences, as well as media campaigns. 

In the summer of 2018 a food souvenir competition took place with the goals of sourcing and promote the traditional food, presenting traditional recipes with a modern touch and to help aspiring entrepreneurs promote their products. Altogether 28 products were submitted to the competition and the producers received feedback on their gastronomical quality, design and their connection with food heritage. The winning products are on sale at the museum shop and can use the museum brand as part of their promotion and labelling.

The cooperation also continues to extend museum collections in the field of contemporary food culture through fieldworks and collection campaigns. 


Why is it important for a museum to cooperate with creative industries? 

The museum sees four main reasons for cooperation:

- Knowledge exchange – the open discussions and practical knowledge from cooks, food industry representatives and small entrepreneurs in use of the local food tradition,

- Linkage between small food enterprises and museums (both public and private institutions),

- Opening the collections – the museum collections and curators/researchers are seen as resources that can be used collaboratively to foster the food traditions of the present and the future,

- Consultancy – the museum can offer considerable expertise, based on the research and source materials within its collections. 


What are the main challenges of working together?

Developing partnerships. The museum recognizes that it is not the expert, but a facilitating partner. We cannot, nor would wish to, say what is the only or right way for making sausages or bread, but we can help to find the information on the historical background of our culinary traditions.  


What is the added value of cooperation between museums and creative industries?

The museum and heritage are used to add value to food products in four particular ways:

- Economic. To give a “quality mark” from the museum for the products which are traditional. This has increased the importance of food in local tourism attractions,

- Social. To raise the sense and pride in regional food and its specific character within the community.

- Networking and expertise. To enhance food products and the reputation of restaurants by organising promotional events,

- Knowledge. Extending and promoting the use of museum collections and research. 


Food we cook is one of the case studies featured in the report Museums and Creative Industries. Case studies from across Europe which will be presented at NEMO annual conference in November, 2018.

Thanks to contributor of the case study Agnes Aljas, research secretary at Estonian National Museum. 

Images: Estonian National Museum