Taking her cue from the origins of food and its preparation,Dutch eating designer Marije Vozelgangs creates one-off experiences that celebrate food.
Marije Vogelzang may come across as an enterprising event organiser except that she is a lot more than that. With over 10 years experience of designing events revolving around food,she is a champion of a discipline that she calls eating design. People mistake me for a food designer but I want to clarify that food is already perfectly designed by nature. Instead,my designs focus around the verb to eat, she says. Her work is inspired by the origin of food,its preparation,history and culture,making her the first eating designer in The Netherlands.
A graduate in industrial design from the Design Academy in Eindhoven,Vogelzang chanced upon the field when she was working on a design project during her course. I looked up funerals and saw how they are observed across cultures. I realised that the colour white is often associated with death. Combining that with the knowledge that food has comforting qualities,I came up with a white funeral meal that consisted entirely of white food and specially designed white crockery. The idea was to create a calming atmosphere,where people could share food and their memories, she says,speaking on the sidelines of the recent India Design Forum (IDF),Mumbai,where she was a speaker. That project only served as a springboard for a career in designing culinary experiences.
Since then she has founded Proef,a creative design studio-plus-restaurant in Rotterdam and Amsterdam,where she hosts food-based events. Food goes to the stomach,but it can also activate the brain and can rouse strong memories and emotions. Accordingly,my work takes into account the relationship between food and the senses,and nature,culture,psychology and science, she explains.
Her projects over the years validate her vision. For example,for her project Elements that was held at the opening of her restaurant in Rotterdam,guests were asked for their date of birth. Once she knew their Zodiac sign,she separated them into four sets as per their astrological element,be it water,fire,earth or air,and tied a coloured ribbon around their wrist to distinguish one from the other. We served food to people according to their element,with white and brown food served to air and earth people and red and green items for fire and water guests, she says.
Another interesting project is the pop-up restaurant Go Slow Café that has tasted success in Milan,Tokyo,London and New York,apart from Rotterdam. Here all the food is prepared by the staff by hand at the table. A lot of attention is paid in preparing,and presenting the food be it pressing oranges or cracking a nut open, she says.
However,her biggest achievement has undoubtedly been the Eat Love Budapest project. Vogelzang says that guests were seated one at a time,aboard a boat on the Danube river. Visitors were separated from the Roma (gypsy) women by a white sheet so they couldnt see each other. The woman would serve food that she has memories of; she would feed the participant wet food items with a spoon,and dry things with her hands, Vogelzang says,stressing that the idea was to bring people closer through the ritual of feeding. It (feeding) is a very intimate ritual,even when its done by a stranger and more so,because the woman is also sharing their life story,the way she would speak to a friend or a child, she says. The reactions to this project were overwhelming. Most people were touched by the experience and it gave rise to a debate about gypsy acceptance in Hungary, she says.
The Indian leg of her journey,however,has just begun and the eating designer is excited about Indian food. I particularly like paani puri as eating it is akin to having an explosion of different tastes all together in ones mouth. Similarly,the way filter coffee is prepared is also very fascinating, she says,adding,Dutch food has a lot to learn from Indian food; here food is an intrinsic part of ones tradition and it exudes human warmth.
The eating designer has also penned down her food concepts in a book called Eat Love and has created a memory game about food,apart from devising fun workshops such as making wearable jewellery from vegetables and fruits (called Veggie Bling Bling) for children. But her ultimate aim,she says,is to ensure that eating design is treated on a par with other design disciplines.