For Martin Kullik and Jouw Wijnsma, sharing a meal is about far more than simply taking in sustenance: It’s an opportunity to create a total work of art. To prove it, the founders of art and design collective Steinbeisser launched the Experimental Gastronomy series in Amsterdam in 2012. The veggie-forward dinners—typically a two-night affair—bring together artists, designers, and chefs for immersive events featuring ingenious tableware created specifically for each imaginative plant-based dish.
This past June—after stints in Northern California, where chefs David Kinch, Corey Lee, and Daniel Patterson cooked together, and Basel, Switzerland, with fare from Michelin two-star talent Tanja Grandits—the series returned to Amsterdam. From Steinbeisser’s long-time home base, the Lloyd Hotel, French chef Alexandre Gaulthier served up 10 vegan courses paired with outlandish dishware and cutlery from ten artists and artisans. Like all previous events, a selection of the banquet’s limited-edition pieces, collected under the brand name Jouw…, will become available for purchase online beginning Aug. 24. Here Kulik explains their concept, and newest collection.
When we met, ten years ago, Jouw and I were both really big lovers of experimental fashion and design and contemporary jewelry and accessories. We started out running pop-up stores in Amsterdam, selecting artists who were cutting edge. But the choices we made were so experimental that people came in and liked the work, but didn’t buy anything.
And so we moved into exhibitions, using the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam as our headquarters. But soon our enthusiasm for hosting those dried up. We felt they were too static, too aesthetic, too repetitive. We started to think more about performance art.
Our Experimental Gastronomy project started around that time, in 2012. We had recently become vegans, but still liked to eat in good restaurants. We thought it would be interesting to invite guest chefs to cook plant-based, organic, biodynamic, and local [meals], and to bring in artists to rethink the cutlery and dishware. It would be a challenge for the chefs, and for the artists, who might be jewelry makers or metalsmiths with no experience making cutlery or dishware.
We get artists to create new pieces for each dinner. We always ask them to work as much as possible with scrap materials, to recycle, upcycle. We find the artists on Instagram, in magazines, from among new graduates of design schools. It works quite organically. One thing that’s very important to us is handcraft, where you can really see traces of where someone has hammered away—can see the faults in the piece.
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Last June, Alexandre Gaulthier, the chef from La Grenouilere in Normandy brought a team of 15 with him to Amsterdam—that’s the biggest group we’ve had so far. We had eight artists who’d created pieces for the meal. Our focus was on community, so we had big plates, sharing plates, and also cutlery that diners used to feed each other.
German artist Aino Nebel made these extremely fragile porcelain pieces—she dips textiles in porcelain—and she created sharing plates from clay foraged on beaches along the North Sea. Dutch designer Jolan Van der Wiel made communal bread bowls using this process he developed where he uses magnets to push the bowl, in a gravity sense, in opposite directions. There were small spoons inspired by the movements of earthworms from French jewelry artist Sophie Hanagarth, and giant ones from Estonian artist Nils Hint—designed for feeding your neighbor. Nils is a blacksmith who repurposes old tools from the former Soviet Union. We’ll be featuring more pieces from him this fall, at the September dinner we’re organizing in Basel with Yoshi Tokuyoshi, chef Massimo Bottura’s former right-hand man.
It takes us a year to a year and a half of preparation for each event. The hardest part, the most time consuming, is getting the artists to make the pieces—and also establishing a dialogue between the artists and chefs. The conversation can go both ways. But it needs time to flourish.
(Photos: Marion Luttenberger, Courtesy Steinbeisser)