Experimental Gastronomy

When I met Martin Kullik for the first time, he was exhibiting recycled men’s fashion in one of Amsterdam’s design-wise hottest hotels, the Lloyd Hotel. Martin runs the project space (Steinbeisser) in the Lloyd with Jouw Wijnsma. And, since food is en mode, his next project would be a cooking experiment.

He coined it Experimental Gastronomy and challenged himself, Jouw and his friend Alexander Gehrsberg (experienced vegan chef) to cook with only bio-dynamic and local ingredients. The quest for the right ingredients resulted in a collaboration with the oldest bio-dynamic farm in The Netherlands, Land en Boschzigt, who supplied the vegetables, and wine (amazingly flowery!).

Three days in a row, Martin and Alexander cooked a 5-course meal for a maximum of 20 guests. In a small hotel room with a kitchen. There were no tables, but many chairs, a boxbed and stairs to sit on. The far end of the room was an open kitchen – and everything was prepared in sight. On the other side, a large round table exhibited cutlery from jewelry designer Maki Okamoto. Maki loves the shape of spoons, and designed fusions of spoons and forks for the dinner. The fork shown on the picture below reminds me of a pitchfork – increasing one’s awareness of your food’s road from-farm-to-fork.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a true challenge to limit oneself to local and bio-dynamic ingredients. Martin and Alexander explained how they had to compromise on the use of certain oils – to guarantee a desired taste palette of the dishes.

Anyhow, the boys succeeded in inspiring all the guests to cook more vegan. Here’s an incomplete list of what tickled our tongues: nettle soup with thyme, cucumber and daisy flowers (yes, they’re edible!); pumpkin flower (the green part is the best as an after-dinner refreshment); nasturtium blossoms; falafel balls (Alexander is partly Isreali) from kidney beans with parsley, summer savory and chard; pelmeni (Alexander is partly Russian) and a strawberry-sweetened oatmeal cookie with gooseberries (full of vitamin C, fiber and potassium)..

I look forward to the next series of no-frills vegan inspiration!

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My First TEDx!

Whilst I’m working on a new version of Living Antenna, things are happening in the meantime – that also contribute to a better idea of what it could, and should be. So in this under construction phase I did not want to withhold this from you: my first TEDx-talk! I was invited to speak at TEDxWageningen, the academic and business food valley of The Netherlands. The theme was “The Emergence of Bio-Based Economies”.

It was exciting to think of what I’d like express to an audience of critical strangers – and amongst some other really inspiring speakers. I decided it’d be best to speak from personal experience, and from what I’m passionate about. And that is – no surprise – about everything typically Living Antenna. In other words: how I believe food, design and sustainability relate, and contribute to each other.

Click here or on the picture to watch the talk!

Unfortunately my microphone was switched off the first three minutes, so I’ve included the first paragraphs for you to read along:

“I’ve got a terrible disease, and my disease is that, in certain areas of my life, I can experience a deep sense of joy, wonder or disappointment. At those moments, I am moved to feel at dis-ease. It happens to me all day long, and the way to cope with that dis-ease, is to ask questions and that is what feeds my personal and professional life. This story is about the symptoms of my disease, and the ideas that result from it.  

The first idea is about what I think is the missing link in (effectively) tackling sustainability issues, then I move on what in our daily lives is one of the major overlooked elements on the road to realize a sustainable future, and I’ll finish by why you, sitting right in front me, can make a difference without any effort whatsoever.

My first observation concerns the whole production and consumption system, where sustainability thinking mainly focuses on optimizing either the pre- or the post-consumption phase. Pre-consumption includes energy efficiency, fair trade and logistics, whereas post-consumption deals with materials, waste and emissions.

But our daily routine of using the products and services we buy, is hardly addressed in present sustainability thinking. It seems as if this consumption phase is a foggy, grey box that we don’t want to look into.

And that is an example of what made me feel at dis-ease, because a substantial part of “unsustainabilities” are hidden in these daily routines. In our standards of normality. The power of standards is that you never question them. Apparently, it’s next to normal to shower for ten minutes, to throw away your boiling water, to only eat perfectly shaped veggies, to turn your home into a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. To me, these standards of normality are an unquestioned opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future.. “

For more, it’s best to just sit back, and watch the talk. I’m really curious what you think of it, so feel free to comment or contribute to the ideas.

A New Era

The moment I have been waiting for has arrived today (graduation!), which means that in the coming weeks I can dedicate more time to Living Antenna. The blog will undergo some changes, to make it a lot easier to navigate, read and share what’s collected here. In the meantime, check my Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook – they often foreshadow what’s further elaborated here! Also, do not hesitate to comment or give feedback on what more you’d like to be scribbled, explained or explored on my digital notebook.

And here’s a peek at the cards I’ve been working on.. Home-stamped!

The Art of Fruit

In some homes, fruit is always displayed so beautifully. In my home, it’s often a pile-up of a day’s score at the market in too small a bowl. The worst is that some fruits don’t go well together, or disappear below dominant apples and oranges and start decaying before you know it.

At Pecha Kucha Amsterdam, Rogier Martens showed how he, accidentally, solved this problem. He turned some of his glass experiments into an upside-down oriented fruit bowl, based on the Jonagold apple. True fruit art. This movie shows you how the mold-blowing of glass really works. Worth a look.

And from today, I’ll treat my fruit bowl as a canvas.

Photo credits: Rogier Martens

Bye, Bye Mediterranean Diet

The past year I’ve come across so many emergent, and promising food movements, that I decided to publish a series. This third post is about the New Nordic diet, a promising alternative to the long-time lauded Mediterranean diet.

Breakfast during a holiday weekend in Copenhagen (2010)

New Nordic is the name sometimes attributed to the main culinary shift of the past decade. Where sometimes a Mediterranean diet is perceived as the ideal diet, both for health and the environment, Scandinavia might take over this spot. Scandinavia, with its “earthy and refined, ancient and modern, both playful and deeply serious” cuisine that does not thrive on the new (techniques, stabilizers, ingredients), but instead emphasizes the old (drying, smoking, pickling, curing, smoking), returns the balance to earth itself.

The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), the official body of cooperation of the Nordic countries, will promote the concept of New Nordic Food in collaboration with the United Nations as an example of cooking for a sustainable future. Chef Trina Hahnemann, who wrote The Scandinavian cookbook, defines the New Nordic cuisine as “an everyday cuisine that can inspire people in the northern hemisphere to eat both locally and seasonally.” She emphasizes traditional recipes and eating from your own vegetable garden.

Noma’s artichoke ice-cream (by Prive International Blog)

New Nordic sidesteps the year-round demand for non-local foodstuffs that currently dominates the Dutch supermarkets. René Redzepi, chef of the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, says: “We need to give ourselves the challenge of seeking out what we have here [in Denmark] in order to understand it and to work with it. And when it gets tough – which it does in winter – we keep going.” Redzepi argues that “food is everywhere,” and tries to challenge perceptions of what is good and when food is good. This means he embraces underripe strawberries and salad roots. He tries to question when vegetables are ‘optimal’, and will harvest them long after they are ready, calling them “vintage vegetables” (Interview with Redzepi in Lucky Peach‘s second edition – 2011).

What do you think will dominate 2012 as the novel healthy and sustainable diet?

Food foraging

The past year I’ve come across so many emergent, and promising food movements, that I decided to publish a series.  This second post introduces you to the world of eating from the forest. Or local park. Or your neighbor’s lawn.

Although one would not expect the Dutch forests to contain edible food, many immigrants find their way to our forests – Moroccan mothers forage ground-elder, whereas the Polish look for mushrooms and the Chinese visit the Dutch coasts to fish.

In The Netherlands this group of foragers adheres to the adagio “harvest without sowing” (oogsten zonder zaaien). The members are well-organized in sharing what and what not to pick, as well as the locations of rich forests and green fields. The “Food Forage Compass” (Wildplukwijzer) is an online Google Map  that shows fruitful locations for food foraging in The Netherlands.

A food blogger who went food foraging in het Vliegenbos in the North of Amsterdam – calling himself a vinex-hunter, because of his urban environment – writes that people frowned upon him, but that his foraged wild chive and ramson made him “happy as a child.” Food foraging is time-intensive, and there is no sufficient food available to forage for a larger public than the current group of hobbyists, without harming forest ecosystems.  In New York, park authorities are already protesting against foraging, because “public lands are not a communal pantry.” But, you might be able to draw a close with that faraway uncle living on the countryside, or just lend some fertile land through Landshare.

Where do you think you’d find edibles in your neighborhood?

Home-, hand- and manmade

The past year I’ve come across so many emergent, and promising food movements, that I decided to publish a series.  This first post explains you how doing-it-yourself  (DIY) is slowly pushing away our call for convenience in the kitchen, cellar, garage, or wherever you brew your beer, stir your ricotta or store your chutneys.

The DIY movement started in Brooklyn, among people in their 20s and 30s who “have a sense of community and an appreciation for traditional methods and flavors”. We all want to know what’s in our food, but most of all it’s exciting to make food the artisan way. And get it right. Exactly right.  

By adopting traditional preservation and conservation methods,  food processors and supermarkets  are side-stepped.  Many amateur, and professional chefs prefer to do the bread-baking, the meat-curing and the cucumber-pickling themselves. Preferably at home. By hand.

The book shown here is a perfect starting point for any DIY foodie. It’s made by cook and culinary illustrator Yvette van Boven. I call her book a cross-over between a cookbook, and Instructables.

Once you’ve finished your batch of chili-jam or get fed up with your home-brewn punch, start a bottom-up initiative, where community is built through the sharing and swapping of homemade food. An overseas example is the (again Brooklyn-based) food swap where homemade goods are exchanged for other edibles as a means to combat the lingering economy. Your shelf will be happy.

A Dutch example of swapping amazingly tasty rhubarb wodka, seaweed lasagne and eggnog icecream is the Underground Farmer’s Market (Underground Boerenmarkt), where Amsterdam-based food trendwatcher Marjan Ippel brings together all types of avid home-cooks to share their produce with other cooks, and a limited (paying) public.

If you’d sell your homemades there, what would you like to make perfectly?

The How To Of Small Gatherings

“A meal, according to my understanding anyhow, is a communal event, bringing together family members, neighbors, even strangers. At its most ordinary, it involves hospitality, giving, receiving and gratitude.”
Wendell Berry

The end-of-the-year holidays are so much about kinship, that is – relationships. Kinship means being connected, by blood or  marriage, but also by common characteristics, or affinity. Feeling akin to someone is a good reason to share a table, and a meal.

And why should we leave these valuable shared meals to holidays, weddings and birthdays? Each day, we have the chance to make something of our gatherings with family, or friends. It need not be extraordinary. “Simple, uncomplicated and less contrived” is sufficient. That’s what the makers of Kinfolk Magazine  – an inspirational guide for small gatherings – advocate in their Manifesto.  They share their “natural approach to entertaining,” and I love it.

Kinfolk is a both a print magazine, online  journal and photo and video gallery. It is run by a community of artists, writers, photographers, designers and cooks across the globe (especially the United States) who all share this love for spending time with kins, accompanied by good food.

I am a huge fan of their approach to quality time, especially heir tips for the winter season – running from  snowy cooking adventures to  brisk morning walks and warm fires. Have a look, and make sure to spread the density of end-of-year quality time over the whole of the New Year.

I will.

Seduce To Reduce

It’s difficult to decipher why people do what they do – and in my opinion, also not something to strive for. It’s too complex. Instead, do something and see how people (or you) respond to it. Hivos, a Dutch non-profit, took this advice very seriously. They are experimenting. Yes. They learn through trial and error, instead of scientifically scrutinizing people’s motivations, needs and drivers.  These experiments are part of their newest campaign – coined the Seduction Project – to engage people in less energy intensive behaviors. But not through paternalizing current behaviors, but instead through seducing (‘nudging‘) people into energy behaviors Hivos considers desirable.

To walk their talk, Hivos organized a Small Climate Summit, bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers and artists who all put forward one idea based on the principles of seduction. Mirte Becker, a game design student, suggested a Light Gun to switch off lights in a playful manner. My friends from Strawberry Earth explained their ‘green deal’ website, that proves that buying ‘green’ is not enough, if you can also buy ‘awesome’. And artist Matthijs Lievaart initiated the Club of 90, encouraging people to drive 90 kms/hour, because “real gangsters are never in a hurry.”

All 10 seductive ideas are summarized in this presentation:

 

 

I look forward to more sustainability initiatives like this, because who doesn’t like to be seduced?

Everything I Have

Writing a thesis on sustainable consumption makes you inspect your lifestyle. Actually, I look at what I do and buy in gloriously geeky detail. And so far, it makes me want to experiment. Not that I want to downshift, no. But it’ll be interesting to see what value I actually assign to everything I own. Of course, all my stuff seems to be relevant to me. Seems, yes. I’m not sure. In a Facebook-discussion with my friend Justus Bruns, I was pointed to this talk of Bruce Sterling by Alper Çuğun.

In his talk, Bruce explains how you go about such a Relevant Personal Stuff Assessment. Start by dividing everything you own into four categories:

1. Beautiful things. Aesthetics are very important. But is it so beautiful you’d want to show it off? Exhibit it? Do you tell your friends about it? If not, it’s not beautiful. Take a (beautiful) picture of it, get the bar-code in case you’d want to re-buy it and share the picture with your external hard-drive, only. Because, “you weren’t born with it,” according to Bruce.

2. Emotionally important things. Also, emotional attachment is important. But, are you going to tell anybody about it? Does the object carry a narrative worth sharing? Or is it just emotionally blackmailing you? If there’s no associated story, better to get rid of it. Again, take the picture. Write the unworthy-of-sharing story too, if you wish.

3. Tools, devices and applications. With getting rid of tools, you lose nothing. Bruce: “You’re only gaining time, space and health.” If you want to keep tools, make sure they’re of highly technical standards. Do not duck-tape your tools. Or make do with tools. They probably break more than they fix.

4. Everything else. Get rid of stuff you never touch. Or haven’t touched in a year.

Amazing project by Simon Evans: Everything I Have

Then, Bruce emphasizes that there is stuff that should be of the highest quality imaginable. Those are objects you use everyday and are physically close to you. That’s a bed, yes – because you spend almost a third of your lifetime in it. Sell Everything else and buy that bed, and a back-friendly chair. And proper cosmetics, because they sit on your cheeks, and eyelashes. Proper shoes. The stuff you wear, and touch on a daily basis. He promises that your “quality of life will skyrocket.”

He even promises that “you will look different, you will act differently – you will become much more of what you already are.”

I have a notebook. And a pen. And lots, and lots of stuff. Time to make some.. lists.

NOTE Although I endorse the idea of getting more value out of less stuff, it is also important to think of what you do with all the books, clothes, crockery and toolboxes you’re going to get rid of. Make sure they get a second life into someone else’s list of Beautiful things or Emotionally important things.