From Milan to Melbourne, no major design event seems complete these days
without food crossing over into the world of design – from pasta saunas
and landmark architectural jellies to edible tapestry.
At Salon Maison et Objets in February this year, France’s foremost design fair devoted a conference known as ‘Paris des Chefs
’ to food design for the second year running.
Chefs flaunted their flawless palettes of colours, playing with textures and light boxes to create picture-perfect food presentations alongside their creative collaborators, among them architects, ceramists and designers.
But somewhat controversially, Pierre Herme, creator of Paris’ most famously sculptural pastries, took to the stage to refute food design before a crowd of design-loving gourmets.
Chefs might be denying its very existence, but the worlds of food and design are proving a highly palatable pairing.
Chefs as food designers
Contemporary chefs of the Ferran Adrià
school of cooking have been engaging in their form of food design for some time, mostly influenced by the study of food science.
The head chef of El Bulli – once the best restaurant in the world – is the brainchild of a highly influential food movement often referred to as molecular gastronomy, which has been incorporating chemistry into the kitchen for the past two decades.
Herve This, the French physical chemist coined the scientific term "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" in 1988, when he began to explore the science of flavour and the way in which perfection in the kitchen can be achieved through understanding the molecular compounds and how they are affected by cooking temperatures.
From here, food became theatrical, giving birth to a movement of flaming frozen sorbets and edible seashores.
Three Michelin-starred British chef Heston Blumenthal
went as far as to play the sounds of the sea via shells fitted with iPods as part of his ultra designed dining room experiences.
Eating as experience
Ferran Adria famously likes to say, "The ideal customer doesn't come to El Bulli to eat, but to have an experience".
For designers and chefs alike, evoking a sentiment from the viewer is very often one of the main motivations behind their complex creations.
While chefs might be adopting design principles in their kitchens, a new breed of designers are approaching edible materials with much the same appetite.
One designer renowned for her ‘createring’ is Marije Vogelzang, founder of Amsterdam-based Proef
(meaning ‘tasting’ in Dutch).
Trained at Design Academy Eindhoven, Vogelzang refers to herself as an ‘eating designer’ as her designs focus around the verb ‘to eat’.
She creates thought-provoking food experiences and installations played out at her studio-cum-restaurant, inspired by the origins and traditions of food, as well as its ability to arouse emotions from eaters.
At New York’s Performa, the annual performance festival, the Italian futurists were the inspiration for her larger-than-life installation. She responded to their manifesto that called upon placing a ban on pasta, which they thought made Italians indolent.
Vogelzang’s response called upon visitors to be as lethargic as they liked, immersed in a giant sauna created from the steam used in the boiling of the pasta.
Eating as ceremony
Over in Sydney, Metalab founder, metal smith and die-hard food lover Cesar Cueva is similarly incorporating food into the practice at his Surry Hills studio and gallery, Metalab.
At the recent launch of Cinnamon Lee’s ‘Twilight’ exhibition of lighting, Oscillate Wildly chef Karl Firla responded to the sculptural lighting through a series of jelly cubes, which with their transparency complemented and dramatised Lee’s works all the more.
Firla also participated in Designer Sushi, in which a number of creatives were supplied with a box of seemingly unrelated objects (rubber bands, condoms, bike reflectors) and challenged to produce a work using these as inspiration.
Video was the medium for presenting Firla's installation, which saw him cooking up a dish of tripe using a bell jar and liquid nitrogen
Design Festival fever
The growing trend in the food and design overlap is proving too delicious for Australia's design festival organisers to forgo and both Melbourne's State of Design
, which came to a close on 25th July, and Sydney Design 2010
which ended on August 16th, are seeing this trend for food entering into the design realm.
While static installations often maintain a distance between the designer and the viewers, food can prove an effective way of bridging that gap.
"Not everything is design. But design is about everything and food is no exception,” said Kate Rhodes, curator of the Public Program at this year's State of Design.
"What we eat is wrapped up in an enormous system and design decisions affect the farming methods, transportation, storage and selling of food as well as its consumption from the label on the jar or the sign above a display of apples."
The festival sought out programs, which engaged with these choices and next year they'll be looking for more programs around food. Edible Tapestry Tales
was a culinary experience created by Rachel Khoo and myself at South Melbourne's Australian Tapestry Workshop over 3 nights of the festival as part of the 'Design for Everyone' public program.
Sydney Design 2010 boasted its own food design event, 'Ride-on-Dinner
', presented by Object Gallery and one of the winners of the Design Now! 2009 competition, Anthony Hamilton-Smith.
It was a migratory and eco-friendly experiment, which took a group of cyclists around the city discovering and celebrating its design, architecture and cuisine.
Along the way, a three-course meal was devised using a pedal-powered kitchen.
Food is perfect
Mr Herme might protest to the concept of designing food and Vogelzang is the first to agree: “I don’t design food, food is perfect.”
But design or not design, for these creatives food acts as inspiration, material, utensil, art and tool for communicating ideas.
And makes for an ever-colourful and provocative eating experience.