Go Ahead, Play With Your Food. Makers Are Experimenting With Interactive Tableware That Brings Back Conversation

By Laura Goldstein

Remember when Mom scolded you for playing with the food on your plate? Not anymore.

There’s a growing international trend by makers, designers and artists who are taking preconceived ideas of how tableware and cutlery should relate to the user and turning them (sometimes quite literally,) on their heads. Former textile designer, Martin Kullik is one such provocateur. He and business partner, Jouw Wijnsma launched Steinbeisser Experimental Gastronomy in 2009, based at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam. “ ‘Steinbeisser’ literally means biting on rock in German,” laughs Kullik Skyping from Amsterdam. “It’s a metaphor describing our projects that challenge people to not follow rules of preconceived relationships between food, tableware and function. We bring together renowned chefs at international dinners of about 50 people throughout the year. This year, they have already lined up chefs from New York, Zurisch, Copenhagen and Berlin, who will “prepare organic vegan food from locally sourced suppliers, and extraordinary artists create the cutlery and dishware for an overall experience that really stimulates conversation,” says Kullik.

A dinner guest eating with “Navigational Dividers” cutlery by Sergey Jivetin. Photo: Carolyn Sprange

“Local makers are actually present at all the dinners and watching guests try to figure out how to use the utensils is so much fun. It arouses their curiosity and all of a sudden people who might have come to dinner as strangers are talking to their neighbours.”

In 2016, Kullik and Wijnsma created an ever-changing curated online store featuring the work of international makers, called Jouw (translates from the Dutch as “yours”.) Adds Kullik, “You know, people barely chew anymore – everyone just rushes when they eat. Interactive tableware forces people to really slow down and think about how not just about what they’re going to eat.”

New York-based Russian contemporary jewelry designer, Sergey Jivetin’s fascinating Spectacle cutlery series channels both Edward Scissorhands and scientist, Charles Darwin. His Binocular Spoon Fork composed of antique mother-of-pearl opera glasses hand- fabricated to a small fork and spoon, allows the diner to playfully examine minute morsels of food as do his antique brass Map Viewer Tripod and Navigational Dividers cutlery. They all reflect his keen study of industrial and medical engineering. “Sergey’s cutlery was a big hit when we served a dessert of white chocolate truffles and herb sorbet that was incredibly detailed to see with the human eye,” says Kullik.

$1,950. – $2,200. CAD through jouwstore.com

Sensual calabash bowls carved by Tala Yuan. Photo: Caroline Sprange

Tala Yuan’s sensuous organic bowls and spoons are hand-carved from dried calabash gourds. Living and working in China, she says that users of her utensils “will experience a range of emotions, like a child just learning to eat, full of curiosity.” All her pieces can be carefully cleaned with soap and water then seasoned with linseed or walnut oil.

$123. CAD through jouwstore.com

Sorrel ice cream, strawberries and grape seed oil by chef Micha Schäfer of Nobelhart & Schmutzig restaurant in Berlin, served on a plate by Dirk Aleksic with “Gold Wrench Spoon” by Nils Hint. Photo: Caroline Prange

With his studio located near a railway yard in Tallinn, Estonia, blacksmith, teacher, sculptor and jewelry designer, Nils Hint finds tools from the Soviet Union era then upcycles them by forging then gilding one end into functional cutlery. His alchemy conjures wrenches into spoons and forks, adjustable spanners and pliers into knives and even an ice cream scoop into a fork. And, in a pinch, they’ll go from tableware to fixing your faucet.

$140. – $210. CAD through jouwstore.com

Monocycle, like all of Eva Burton’s serving pieces, rocks gently from side-to-side when touched. Photo: Carolyn Prange

“I love colour and movement when I design and hand-carve all my serving pieces,” says Eva Burton skyping from Idar-Oberstein near Frankfurt, Germany. Originally from Buenos Aires, Burton works in wood, granite and agate. Monocycle, like all her serving pieces, rocks gently from side-to-side when touched. Sculptural on their own, they become artisanal showpieces for appetizers, cheeses and petite desserts. Says Burton: “I want to be able to change the table into a daily playground that says ‘welcome home’.”

$1,257. CAD through jouwstore.com

One of six porcelain plates in the Constantinople Collection by Vito Nesta. Photo courtesy Artemest.

Monkey see, monkey do. Getting ready to exhibit at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in April, Italian craftsman, art director and interior designer, Vito Nesta’s playful personality is translated into his work: figures and mischievous creatures dance or grab each other’s tails on his exquisite decorative porcelain plates. “I grew up on a farm so I really love animals, even the wild ones,” laughs Nesta. Inspired by the patterns and mosaic tiles of the opulent Ottoman Empire, Nesta gives all six richly colourful limited edition plates in his Constantinople Collection, a contemporary twist. Peer in closely and a peacock is chasing a butterfly; on another plate, an ungainly elephant daintily balances on her front legs.

$95. USD each through artemest.com

Gabi Veit’s “Gold Thorn Spoon” from her Vices and Spoons series with Jochen Holz’s off-centred hand-blown wine glass. Photo: Carolyn Prange

Applied artist and glass-blower, Jochen Holz’s collection of woozy wine glasses are not a result of too much imbibing. He deliberately wanted to explore how far a traditional wine glass could be altered and off-centred and still be functional. “I use prefabricated borosilicate glass tubing which I buy in different sizes, wall thicknesses, profiles and colours,” he says from his UK studio. “Objects which are unique and individual demand attention and invite the user to engage with them.”

$116. CAD through jouwstore.com

Philadelphia’s FELT+FAT’s quirky Broken Reassembled collection of 3D plates and platters. Photo: Carolyn Sprange

Philadelphia’s FELT+FAT’s quirky Broken Reassembled collection of 3D plates and platters, teasingly challenges users to discover where the real food starts and dishware ends! Contrary to the name, co-founder and ceramicist, “Wynn (Bauer) and I didn’t smash plates but recycled chipped, cracked and all kinds of ceramic scraps, production waste and abstract shapes before glazing,” explains designer, Nate Mell.

$338. CAD through jouwstore.com

Not for the faint-of-heart, Switzerland’s Gabi Veit’s unconventional Vices and Spoons series are based on the seven deadly sins. A contemporary jewelry designer, “I’ve been collecting spoons from all over the world for years and recreating my own designs using modelling and lost wax casting. They are often based on plant life and always tell a story,” she explains. Her spiked Thorn Spoon (oxidized 925 sterling silver) and Red Thorn Spoon (bronze and iron) represent, not surprisingly, Ira, the Latin for ‘wrath’ or ‘anger’. Both would make apropos additions to Game of Thrones, Queen Cersei Lannister’s dining table.

$1,050. CAD through jouwstore.com

Thorn Spoon by Gabi Veit. Photo Caroline Prange
Thorn Spoon by Gabi Veit. Photo Caroline Prange

TOP PHOTO: A guest experiments with with “Long Wrench Spoon” by Nils Hint. Photo: Duncan de Fey

 Visit steinbeisser.org for details of their 2017 international Experimental Gastronomy dinners.