How did Experimental Gastronomy come about?
We launched Steinbeisser in 2009 as a project to explore and connect disciplines such as contemporary jewelry, design, fashion, food, dance, and performance art. In 2012 we launched Experimental Gastronomy, based at the Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam, and active worldwide. Steinbeisser means "biting on rock" in Dutch: it refers to the challenge each participant undergoes taking part in one of the Experimental Gastronomy dinners. The chefs are challenged to cook entirely plant-based (vegan) food, sourcing all the ingredients from local Biodynamic or organic agriculture. The artists are challenged to craft cutlery and tableware from natural materials only and sourced locally or ideally re– or upcycled. And then the guests are challenged to dine with these tools. This way we hope to put the chefs, the artists and our guests outside of their comfort zone, triggering their curiosity and showing different perspectives of how we can relate to food and to one another.
Why did we choose to serve a plant-based (vegan) tasting menu? With the abundance of luscious dishes made with meat, fish, eggs, and cheese there is a need for new, creative and delicious dishes made from plants only. So we also chose to get 100% of all our ingredients, both food and drinks, from biodynamic (Demeter) or organic agriculture sourced exclusively in the surroundings where the dinner takes place.
These exclusive pieces of cutlery remind us of the series Talking Forks by the Italian designer Bruno Munari. Can you tell us about your main influences?
Having cutlery and dishware crafted by artists has been an essential part of our initiative since the beginning. We wanted to see the same attention that goes into preparing a dish go into the cutlery and dishware too. Eating tools nowadays are mostly chosen for efficiency and functionality. But when we started to notice that even in fine dining, where we initially thought that attention goes into every little detail, the cutlery and tableware was similarly efficient and functional, we were even more convinced that we needed to find out how to slow down time at the dinner table.
Bruno Munari's Talking Forks, preliminary drawings, photo courtesy Cucine d'Italia
Our first collaborations with artists Maki Okamoto, Renee Boute & Lisanne van Zanten, and Nils Hint showed that there is a universe to be explored. Maki Okamoto crafted forks, spoons, spoon-forks, and fork-spoons that curiously changed the perception of the "duty" spoons and forks are supposed to have. Renee Boute & Lisanne van Zanten started exploring color psychology in their cutlery pieces – they found out that the color gold increases the perception of sweetness and that blue increases the perception of saltiness, and with their research-based discoveries they created cutlery for the various dishes while the chefs consciously reduced the amount of salt and sugar/syrup/fruit extracts in their cookings. Then Nils Hint started altering and playing with the ideals of seize, weight, shape, and volume. Here we first started to notice that by changing the size of a tablespoon from its normal +/- 20cm length to 40cm or more, or by changing a table spoon's weight from a few grams to a few hundred grams or more, or by giving the guest the chance to choose to eat from either a spoon or a pincer, it made guests eat considerably slower while some even started to chew longer (very interesting taking into consideration that extra chewing can contribute to an enhanced taste experience).