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Why This Benefit Offered Squid Dissection and Lie Detector Tests

For the Perot Museum of Nature and Science's fifth annual fund-raiser, science-based catering and activities created a unusual and educational environment.

By Claire Hoffman January 25, 2018, 7:02 AM EST

To enter the speakeasy, guests were given edible paper with the passcode; they were then instructed to destroy the paper by eating it. The papers were made from rice starch and potato starch, causing them to dissolve with moisture.

Photo: Antonio Diaz

Museum benefit attendees don’t usually expect to be solving crimes, passing lie-detector tests, and dissecting squid. But that’s exactly what 1,000 attendees did at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science’s fifth annual Night at the Museum fund-raiser in Dallas. Held on November 11, the innovative bash used the theme of “Intrigue” to create a series of interactive, educational food stations and activities.

“We try to think of a theme that can be executed with both science and nature, that can be trend-setting, and that can have the food designed around it,” said Katie Middleton, senior events manager at the museum. “‘Intrigue’ encompasses mystery, and there’s a lot of mystery around science, so it was a good opportunity to educate attendees, too.”

Since most of the benefit’s attendees are people who have been to the museum many times, planners used the theme to transform every aspect of the event and the museum—including the decor, the entertainment, and especially the food and beverage. Drew Swanson, the regional executive chef for in-house caterer Wolfgang Puck Catering, took the opportunity to create five main science-based, interactive food stations for guests to explore. 

In one area, a large centrifuge was used to create fig-flavored “beer,” while in another a rotary evaporator created distilled apple cider. Other stations included 3-D food printing, live mirrored cake-glazing, and a blind tasting with nature-inspired items such as espresso-dusted crickets. Swanson and the Wolfgang Puck team consulted with the museum’s educators to create the experiences, and staffers were on hand during the event to explain the science behind the concepts. 

“We really wanted to focus on science and mystery in every activity we did.”

The mysterious theme didn’t stop at the food. Before entering the museum, all guests had to complete a maze outside. Other activities included a crime lab, where experts helped guests solve a crime, and lie detector tests. There were also lipstick print readings, an augmented-reality station from sponsor Lockheed Martin, and cryptozoology trivia. 

“We really wanted to focus on science and mystery in every activity we did,” explained Middleton.

Early in the evening, 400 V.I.P guests were invited to a downstairs speakeasy, which transformed the children’s portion of the museum into a moody, wood-heavy space with wine barrels and leather furniture. To enter the speakeasy, guests were given edible paper with the passcode; they were then instructed to destroy the paper by eating it. 

In the speakeasy and in the other four floors of the museum, mirrored furniture and chrome finishings were used to create illusions with the reflections, further tying into the theme. Decor was also chosen to complement the museum’s 11 existing exhibits, all of which were incorporated into the event.

The event’s giveaway at the end of the night continued to surprise and delight guests. Each person was given a branded box of fortune cookies; on the paper inside was a thank-you note from the museum, as well as a series of fun science and nature facts.

Click through the slideshow to see fresh catering and activity ideas from the mysterious, science-based fund-raiser. 

Launch Slide Show

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