Nature inspired Food design, with Katja Gruijters

Food seems to become the new playground for designers. I am no exception. I love to eat, I love to cook and I love to share my experiments with taste combinations. I am proud to say that I almost never follow a recipe (which implies major failures). I learned that from my mother who’s the queen of culinary improvisation. We even have a work for that in the family : «Touski» meals. From the sentence “Tout ce qu’il reste” meaning “whatever is left”.

Katja’s process was similar in a way. Our first exercise was to find our own ingredients in the Domaine de Boisbuchet itself. Which meant on july 14 wild mint, wild garlic, wild berries, dandelion, fishes and insects of all sorts. I really enjoyed this hunt on the countryside of France, which made me realise how difficult it can be to find food, even in the wild. You have to spend so much energy just to get some vitamins. You have to climb trees, dig in the ground, spend hours fishing, even dive or run after a pray. Most of all, you have to be extremely attentive to your surrounding.

I was impressed by the quantity of living animals you could find around the domaine’s artificial lake. Nobody knows how the river lobsters, shells, cat fishes and Rotengle fishes got there, but I was curious to discover if they were tasty.

It was obvious, after collecting all these ingredients that they were not going to be enough to create a meal for over 40 people. We decided to make a trip to the local farmer market in Confolens, the closest town. We were slightly disappointed to see only two tables of (quite expensive) fruits and vegetables. Most of which were from France. I chose some big artichokes from the region, apricots and raw almonds. We unfortunately had to complete our grocery shopping in a supermarket, where we found local cheeses and ingredients.

Katja’s sons caught a lot of small fishes for me in the lake, using only bread as bait. I manage to cook them (fried, salted or dried), which tasted good, but were way too much trouble for such a small amount of meat.

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I then turned to fruits and vegetables. I had my first success very quickly by filling apricots with crotin goat cheese, almonds and fresh mint. I was teamed with two French women, one German artist and two Taiwanese girls. Together we decided to work around the theme of treasure hunt, inspired by my experience of chasing ingredients and our common nostalgia of Easter eggs. I quickly designed some camouflage domes made of cork, hay and moss to hide my goat cheese apricots and one of my teammate’s eggshell muffins.

Designing a new way to eat an artichoke was the funniest part of this workshop. At first, I honestly didn’t really know how to prepare this vegetable. Since I had chosen the mature ones, the inside was already turning into a flower, which isn’t comestible. The only edible part was the tip of the leaves, which you had to dig with your front teeth. This behaviour inspired me an object that preserves the beauty of the artichoke in its presentation. I called it the reversed artichoke. It’s a 3D printed heart with circular grooves designed to receive the edible petals. Once cooked, the artichoke is pealed and the leaves are inserted backward into the heart. The result looks like a beautiful lily flower. In the middle, the last groove becomes a cup for dips. I made mine out of cider vinegar and betroth compote. The reversed artichoke is put onto a wooden stick, fixed into the ground. The participants only have to pull a petal from the giant flower, dip its tip in the middle and taste the light flavour of the artichoke.

My third project was much more simple. At the farmer’s market, I quickly realised that nobody in the team had ever eaten a raw almond directly from its fruit. I wanted to play with the fact that they are very hard to take out of their shell and also very difficult to distinguish from the leaves in a tree. I decided to suspend them, as they were, from the branches of a big tree. I made them high enough so that the participants had to look up and jump to find their treat.

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For the final presentation of the workshop, every team prepared a small «aperitif», following their chosen theme. The first group served their food directly the river, using the fruits and vegetables as containers.

The second group had suspended textile pockets from the branches of a big tree and served much kind of fresh drinks and fruit jelly.

We had some treasure maps giving an approximate location of the hidden delicacies. There weren’t enough maps for everyone, so they had to create groups instinctively. Also, they were warned that there wasn’t enough for everyone, so they had to be clever and strategic if they wanted to see (and taste) as much as possible. It was an amazing moment to see the people running in various directions after such a quiet moment under the tree. The participants were competitive, because they knew that the quantities were limited and they wanted to get there first. The Taiwanese girls had created an underground barbecue nearby the lake. The ‘’hunters’’ had to dig a hole to discover carbonised bamboo sticks, which were actually containers for smoky and tasty vegetables. Another installation, under the great sequoia tree, had fake snails filled with prunes. The participants had to extract the content with a toothpick. There were 9 installations in total and I think that everybody enjoyed the experience very much. Somehow, nobody found the almonds suspended from the tree. I guess that they couldn’t even recognise them as almonds in their natural shape. I’m sure that, when they went back home, the participants of Katja Gruijters’s workshop didn’t see their refrigerator the same way anymore.

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