Fine Dining in Alabama Exhibit opens in RBD Library

Published: September 26, 2022

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To coincide with the opening of The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, Auburn University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives presents “An Alabama Aperitif: A Look Back at Alabama’s Fine Dining Tradition, 1850 to 1950.” The exhibit is located on the first floor of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library and is open during all hours the library is open.

The exhibit showcases and examines a selection of noteworthy fine dining menus and restaurant postcards from the Patrick Cather Collection. The hundred-year span represented is often considered to have been the golden age of fine dining. The many industrial and cultural changes that were taking place, such as the expansion of rail travel and the hotel industry, as well as increased immigration, formed the perfect blend to spread the concept of fine dining. Refrigerated railcars suddenly made it possible to transport exotic foods cross-country, yet despite this availability, Alabama’s chefs typically chose to highlight local ingredients and recipes that emphasized the state’s culinary heritage rooted in Native American and African traditions.

Each menu featured in the exhibit contains an important piece of Alabama’s culinary history, whether it’s a dish, the people to whom the dish was served or the story of the restaurant in which it was served.

This exhibit is made possible by the generous donation of Patrick Cather’s immense food-related collection. Cather is a book collector and dealer in Birmingham, Alabama. His collection contains menus, receipts, photos and other items—many collected from restaurants he has visited with annotations of his experience. The entire collection is preserved in the Special Collections and Archives department.

The table design in the exhibit is courtesy of The Hotel at Auburn University, managed by Ithaka Hospitality Partners.