MUCHO – Museo del Chocolate—in Mexico City
By Ana Rita García-Lascurain
As an architect, I’ve been fascinated by museums and how the design of spaces can influence the experience of the visitor and the meaning of the objects within. Museums are not only repositories of valuable pieces preserved for posterity, but cultural elements in constant evolution and construction. Elastic and fertile matter for artistic expression, knowledge and community action.
And so is chocolate, an essential part of Mexican culture, deeply rooted in our identity and valued as our nation’s heritage.
That’s how what is now MuCho Chocolate Museum came together as a project of social architecture, art and community construction.
In 2008, we began restoring a house built in 1909, catalogued as a historic site. Located in the Colonia Juárez, a traditional neighborhood in the center of Mexico City. In 2010, amidst the bicentennial celebrations of Mexico’s Independence, I started to conceive of a self-sustainable creative project, with a theme that would be accesible to everyone.
The theme would offer an opportunity to keep designing, to embroider each space and provide an experiental tour about one of the most valuable foods of humanity.
Why choose a chocolate museum? Because of a commitment to celebrate Mexican culture, a passion for cooking and a regard for chocolate as its maximum expression.
The virtues of this food culture have been proved over the museum’s ten years of existence. MuCho started humbly, with a small collection and the support of visual artists, historians, gastronomers, cacao producers, friends. To open up yet another cultural space in Mexico City, devoted to a food, was a challenge that has matured and grown with a popular response that we never imagined back then.
MuCho is in constant evolution, derived from its heterogeneous audience, the commitment of its team and the initiatives that take place within and outside. On a regular Sunday at Mucho, a diverse crowd gathers for a guided tour. A family from Yucatan, two Korean chocolatiers, college students from Puebla, an elderly couple. Behind them, a bunch of rowdy kids who came to the museum for a school assignment.
Simultaneously, part of our team is participating in an important chocolate fair in Tabasco, ancient land of cacao in the southern part of the country, where we have designed pop-up museums for the past ten years, reaching out to other audiences.
The museum's social value lies in its ability to create meaningful personal experiences for a diverse crowd. We are a space for cultural exchange, inviting people to actively participate in the exhibited topics, that derived from an indisputable love for chocolate, can express ongoing concerns of humanity. One of the most relevant topics in MuCho has been inclusion. We welcome visitors with disabilities on a regular basis, and have also produced exhibitions, workshops and conferences by artists with disabilities, learning from them and creating awareness in our audiences and our team.
Another aspect of the museum is visitors’ actual interaction with chocolate. They can grind traditional chocolate in metates, and drink cacao in various forms: diluted in water, in milk, foamy, hot, cold. They can sample chocolate cakes and tamales made with chocolate. Museum-goers delight in shiny chocolate bombons, multicolored, filled with unique flavors such as cochineal or nopal. Or chocolates combined with chili, with mango, dark, light, in many shapes and textures. We acquire fine cacao from the hands of devoted Mexican cacao producers, always surprising. We roast it, grind it, transform it, to share it. A glorious activity, to make chocolate.
The museum’s initiative is a cultural catalyst, and has allowed us to build up on connections in many different fields. Alliances with other museums and cultural institutions, environmental organizations, cocoa producers and those related to the production chain, with scholars, artists, musicians, gastronomers. These alliances have resulted in exhibitions that reflect common topics and inspire artists to work on them.
MuCho has participated in conferences and events that have taken Mexican cacao culture to other countries, in a joint effort with our embassies and consulates. We designed and coordinated the first Mesoamerican Contest for Biodiversity-friendly cacao, with the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio), with the participation of cacao producers from ten countries within the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the support of over 30 international private and public institutions.
MuCho has an internship program with students of several colleges in Mexico and other countries, engaging them in the diverse activities of the museum, including field trips to cacao plantations.
One of these thriving relations has been with the David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), thanks to my husband and partner, Richard De Pirro, a 1990 graduate in Architecture and Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Ricardo and I founded DGL S.C. in 1993, an architecture and urban design firm, sharing ideas, from our independent standpoints. His influence and participation in the development of MuCho have been immense, providing design, intelectual resources, academic rigor and connections. The work of our architecture office has been crucial in the production of exhibitions and research materials, and its dynamic has enriched the museums’ activities as well.
Since 2014, we’ve hosted DRCLAS events in the museum, with the Harvard community in Mexico, as well as students and professors who came to our country for internships and research. Book presentations, photography exhibitions and debates on controversial topics have taken place. But above all, the value of the gatherings has been to add this college group to the social construction of the cultural heritage of chocolate.
Due to the global pandemic, we had to pause and close the museum doors in March. We have transitioned to a virtual presence, engaging our audiences and keeping them involved. We will soon open the museum again. A new era has started.
It’s hard to appraise everything that has developed in MuCho, derived from the inspiration of the “food of the gods”—cacao, which is metaphysical.
It’s also difficult to measure how much aesthetic and sensorial pleasure has been felt within its walls.
Is there any other food that can achieve this?
Ana Rita García-Lascurain is the founder and director of the Mucho AC Foundation. She received a degree in architecture from the Iberoamericana University with a Masters in Real Estate Administration from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Monterrey.
All photos: Fundacion Mucho Archive