Sometimes your passion can truly be your career. Take Charles Baum and Barbara McMahon, two friends who took their love for the history and creativity of the restaurant world and vintage food and beverage imagery and founded Cool Culinaria, a relatively new company specializing in “The Art of Dining Out.” And they mean that quite literally. Cool Culinaria was established to treat dining and drinking illustrations, graphics and menus of bygone eras as the pieces of art they truly were, honoring the past by giving it a prominent place in modern times.
Fond Foodie Memories
Most who grow up to be dedicated culinary enthusiasts can date their positive experiences with food back to their childhood. There’s that cake your mother made for your birthday every year, the first time you sampled caviar, your first trip to a “fancy” restaurant.
McMahon, for example, remembers her first experience dining out to be an ice cream sundae called the Knickerbocker Glory at the University Cafe in Glasgow when she was 13. And one of Baum’s early culinary memories is tasting his first oyster when he was just 11 during a lunch with none other than James Beard.
But don’t we all also remember that one restaurant we loved because they gave us crayons and a treasure map as a placemat? Or those that amused us a few years later as they taught us how to mix up cocktails like the Pink Lady and Grasshopper? It’s those fond memories Cool Culinaria honors with its prints and other products, allowing us to bring a little of our own past into our current homes.
Since those early childhood days, Baum and McMahon have covered quite a lot of professional ground. Baum is an artist, photographer, collector, and former restauranteur and McMahon is a writer and researcher, as well as a self-proclaimed “menu maniac.”
For Baum, the restaurant world has been part career and part obsession. It began with The Gross & Baum, a hotel his grandparents owned in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and moved on to Manhattan and the world renowned eateries of The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, where Baum served as both general manager and partner.
A storyteller at heart, McMahon enjoys not just the historical nature of the restaurant items -- she recently uncovered menus dating back to the late 1800s -- but how much it says about that particular place in time, opening a door not only to how people dined out in different eras but to the social history and artistic achievement of the era as well.
Baum’s own collection of food and beverage memorabilia has been curated over the past 30 years. Throughout his years in the restaurant business, he says he always was “intrigued and impressed by the unique impact of menu design and other printed material that enhanced the expectations and experience of dining out.”
He and McMahon wanted to find a way to share that art, as well as the “menuisms,” their word for those whimsical quotes that have decorated illustrated menus throughout the years. Among the offerings you’ll find here are menus from the haute cuisine restaurants of 19th century Paris to those of 1930s America. The pieces have been collected by Cool Culinaria from restaurants, bars and saloons, cafes, diners, drive-ins, and nightclubs and reimagined as art for today.
Prints can be purchased framed or unframed and range in price from just $17 (unframed) to $275 (framed). The company offers additional nostalgic items, like whimsical t-shirts and household products, that recall the kitsch of earlier times as well.