Playing in the Park

Playing in the Park

In the country to set up a unique dining experience,Dutch ‘feeding’ designer Marije Vogelzang speaks about her design philosophy and creating her own profession

When she was a child,Marije Vogelzang loved putting together platters of snacks for friends and family,with each bite-sized tidbit completely different from the other. Apart from the satisfaction of feeding them,Vogelzang was fascinated by which particular morsel each person would choose. “I was interested in the psychology of food and how each individual reacts to it differently,” she says,sitting in the coffee shop of Delhi’s The Park hotel,where she has come to collaborate with the chefs to put together an in-room dining experience (more prosaically known as room service),which she says is a first,the world over.

Vogelzang,in her thirties,is perhaps the world’s first “feeding designer”,whose work includes edible exhibitions,installation dinners and collaborations with people involved in the food industry from farmers,chefs,nutritionists to food haulage and transportation professionals. So how does one create one’s own profession? For Vogelzang,the answer lies in her student days when she was training to be a product designer at the Eindhoven University of Technology in her native Holland. “I still wasn’t sure what kind of medium (furniture,personal products) I wanted to work with and design products for,since product design is meant to improve people’s lives. One day,I was in my kitchen to make dinner. As I was opening drawers and pulling out ingredients,I realised all these things were designed for humans. I knew I had found my medium,” she says. After her graduation in 2000,she set out on a solo career in eating and feeding design,hoping to make people look at food as more than just a requisite of sustenance,infusing a sense of playfulness into it.

Vogelzang’s projects are multi-layered,rife with psychological questions and moral speculations. Rather like a Terry Pratchett novel. In one of her projects she worked with pig farmers in Holland to help pigs deal with boredom. “Pigs are very intelligent animals and if they aren’t kept occupied they tend to get restless and aggressive. So we designed a system wherein these huge screens were set up on the stable walls which were interfaced with an app. Basically,you switched on the app and would see a indistinct group of pigs whose attention you could get by tapping on them. On the stable screens,the pigs would see a dot of light,and being naturally curious,would begin to follow it. You gained points according to the duration you managed to engage the pig’s attention,” she explains. The app was also an interesting example of role reversal wherein humans became entertainment fodder for animals. But what really appealed to Vogelzang was the possible moral quandaries that could arise from playing the game. “What if you realised that the bacon you were eating one morning was sourced from the pig you had been playing with? It was meant for people to examine their relationship with their food more closely,” she says.

This connection between people and their food is a dimension Vogelzang loves exploring,saying “Food is a huge part of our collective cultural heritage. So many of our memories,values and traditions are all rooted around food and each person has a different perception of it”. This is one of the reasons she enjoys visiting India (this is her fourth visit to the country),because of the ritualisation associated with dining as well as the incredible variety of cuisines.

For last night,she also worked with chefs Rajesh R and Abhishek Basu,Area Director– Food Production and Executive Chef of The Park,New Delhi,respectively,to create a unique dining experience for special invitees to the hotel.