Art and cuisine have for some time been complementary, so much that an aesthetic presentation of a dish sometimes supersedes the actual experience of, well, eating it. However, until now, the artistic vein of the gastronomy industry had not yet manifested itself through the utensils one uses to dine with, until the Dutch creative duo formed by Martin Kullik and Jouw Wijnsma founded the Steinbeisser Experimental Gastromony initiative in 2012.
Driven by the idea to bridge all the things they love the most: food, sustainability and design, the duo set up their unique dining experiences featuring cutlery and dishware pieces made by artists in totally unconventional forms, challenging conformist norms of practicality. Imagine trying to feed yourself with a fork that weighs a kilo, or using a spoon that resembles a twig rather than a practical piece of metal. Both scenarios aren’t the fruit of a surrealist poem but very-much what you can expect from the Amsterdam-based brand, whose immersive dinners aren’t too dissimilar from a Salvador Dalì painting, where a melting spoon would certainly not be out of place, and ergonomics are long-forgotten.
The beauty of it? The whole initiative is entirely committed to sustainability, from the locally sourced, plant-based ingredients used by the chefs to the natural or recycled materials the artists craft into their kooky creations. What’s more, Jouw… now stocks new tableware pieces, or culinary sculptures more like, by over 40 contemporary acclaimed artists defying the boundaries of functional art, available to add to your kitchen cupboards pronto.
We talked to co-founder Martin Kullik to find out a bit more about the idea behind the artistic collaborations, the sensorial dining experiences and devotion to the environment.
Could you tell me a bit more about your background and how you came up with the idea for the Steinbeisser Experimental Gastronomy project and later, Jouw…?
Jouw and I both love the beauty of craftsmanship, ceramics, design, fashion, architecture and applied art. That's why in 2009 we started Steinbeisser as a travelling concept store, showcasing bright, young talents across fashion and jewellery. In 2012 I became vegan, shifting my perspective and fueling my own curiosity for sustainable farming practices and biodiversity. We both wanted to research things that are important to us; for me this was the origin of plant-based foods and all things fermented. That curiosity eventually led to what has become an essential part of our project, the food-scouting. The tastings commence months before the event takes place, so that the chefs have the time to explore new ingredients. Then we started the Experimental Gastronomy wanting to challenge everyone involved in stepping out of their comfort zone: the chefs had to work with solely plant-based, organic, biodynamic and locavore ingredients; the artists had to create new kinds of cutlery and tableware from natural recycled, upcycled or repurposed materials; and the guests were challenged to engage with these tools. In 2016 we started Jouw... with the idea of creating an online shop and archive that showcased the abundance of new concepts and fresh takes on tableware the artists envisioned over the years for the Steinbeisser events.
Your tableware is so much more than just that, bridging practicality and art whilst bringing people together. Why is the collective experience so important in your collaborations?
Foremost our projects are meant to be delicious, thought-provoking and super fun! By working with chefs to make an all-vegan, organic, locavore tasting menu and with artists to rethink the cutlery and dishware, we try to have a very positive approach when it comes to challenging our habits. In order to inspire awareness and trigger the guests to be more mindful, we ask artists of various mediums (think blacksmiths, ceramicists, jewellery makers, stonecutters, visual artists, etc.) to reimagine tableware and create unusual concepts that don't follow the normal rules of usability.
What do you think changes within us when we challenge ourselves to do something so natural like eating? Why is this important?
Over the years we have experienced that by changing the material, form, colour, texture, size and/or shape we can not only affect the way we behave but also the way we taste food. In 2012 we collaborated with the Japanese/Swedish contemporary jewellery artist Maki Okamoto who created a collection of very unusual spoons, forks, spoon-forks and fork-spoons for our dinners. While looking at the pieces you would merely think that these are somewhat too-wide forks or a too-long spoons. As it turns out, by changing the shapes of the cutlery, it impacted the way the cutlery could be used. Diners were perplexed about how to use them, which had an immediate impact on the community feel in the dining room. People started to engage with each other, laugh excitedly and even switch cutlery with each other. This was the first time we saw guests loosening up through the use of cutlery.
There is also a sense of playfulness and child-like intuition when it comes to your products. What other elements would you say are part of your ethos?
Being intuitive, sensible and above all loving.
Do you think the materials used for the pieces have a role in the experience?
The materials play an essential role in the relationship between the user and the objects. We try to only use natural materials, ideally from local sources or self-foraged in the wild. Materials can also be recycled, upcycled and/or repurposed.
Why is it important to you to serve plant-based food, and use recycled materials for the tableware?
For our Experimental Gastronomy projects we chose to always serve a plant-based (vegan) organic locavore tasting menu. Why? Because with the abundance of luscious dishes made from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and so on there is a need for new, creative and delicious dishes made from plants only. While searching for the most ecological ways of farming, we chose to get 100% of all our ingredients, both food and drinks, from biodynamic and/or organic farmers sourced locally to where the dinners take place. The chefs, the artists and the farmers are all equally essential to the project. And last but not least, we ask all the chefs to cook without the use of any kind of additives or preservatives, because we deem those unfit for consumption.
As for the tableware, using recycled, upcycled and repurposed materials was a logical step considering the overall ecological approach we take. Artists are asked to solely use natural materials, in fact they have found the limitation of resources to be an extra creative boost and have therefore fully embraced it.
Is sustainability a strong element of what you do, if so why?
In order to change the way we impact our planet and reduce our CO2 emissions, we need to rethink how we eat and farm. For this reason, focusing on small-scale local biodynamic and organic farmers has become an essential part of our project. We strongly believe that the future of farming lies in a small-scale artisanal way of producing food. Therefore, we source 100% of all our ingredients from ecological farming such as biodynamic, organic and permaculture along with foraging in the wild and food forests. In order to deepen our understanding of the diversity of each ingredient we have been doing food-scouting and countless tastings over the past 8 years, building a network counting more than 600 farmers and producers in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Additionally, in order to reduce the demand for animal products we have to increase the quality of vegan options. Nowadays if you go to a fine-dining restaurant, you will be overwhelmed by a 3 to 40 course tasting menu where a plethora of animal products will follow each other while plant-based ingredients are hugely overlooked. We believe that by tapping and challenging internationally acclaimed chefs to create an all vegan organic locavore tasting menu, we might be able to inspire chefs to change the way they cook while also triggering individuals worldwide to do the same.