If Martin Kullik invites you to dinner, expect a challenge. You may be faced with a spoon covered in tiny thorns or a plate made from organic soil. Dessert could be served on a strip of rusted metal.
“We try to trigger our guests and the diners, the chefs – triggering everyone through undergoing challenge,” Kullik says. “Sometimes we have guests asking, why do we have to make it difficult? Why do we have to eat from this strange cutlery?”
He may sound like the world’s worst dinner party host, but there is method in Kullik’s dining etiquette madness. Along with partner Jouw Wijnsma, Kullik runs Amsterdam-based dining concept Experimental Gastronomy, a series of dinners that sees fine dining chefs create unique menus of plant-based dishes, served on tableware that is custom-designed by artists and artisans. By disrupting the relationship between what we eat and the implements we eat it with, the aim is to find new ways of experiencing food.
Working together under the moniker Steinbeisser, Kullik and Wijnsma hosted the first Experimental Gastronomy dinner seven years ago at a Dutch hotel, and have since staged events all over the world, including one last year at a botanic garden in Basel with Milan-based chef Yoji Tokuyoshi and another in California featuring the triple-Michelin-starred David Kinch. Notable dinnerware items to date have included a plate attached to a bath plug and an oversized spoon designed to feed the person sitting opposite you.
“The moment we have the chef confirmed, we curate the artists and the craftsmen around the chef,” says Kullik. “It can be contemporary jewellery artists, it can be weavers, blacksmiths, ceramicists, even fine artists. There has to be something in the work of the artist that matches the aesthetics that my partner and I are looking for, so it has to be experimental.”
The latest Experimental Gastronomy event took place in June in Amsterdam. The most complex dinner to date, it saw Taiwanese chef André Chiang create a 12-course menu on the theme of “over-the-top Asian”, with 15 artists contributing cutlery and crockery. Texan ceramic artist Adam Knoche made three rough-edged plates in charcoal, burnt ember and textured white glazes, while jeweller Elwy Schutten fashioned rock crystals into delicately patterned tubes. A double-headed spoon created by California-based metalsmith Jaydan Moore looked particularly challenging.
Before an Experimental Gastronomy dinner, artists may share their designs with the chef and tweak them to fit the menu, but the idea isn’t to create functional eating implements; Kullik instead views the collaboration as one in which “the artists make really interesting pieces and the chefs get inspiration from it.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any dish that could be ideally served on a tubular “plate” that looks more like a razor-clam shell – but that’s kind of the point.
“Functional cutlery enables us to accelerate the eating process,” says Kullik. “By changing those components of cutlery, that decelerates the eating process.”
At a time when we can have a Thai green curry delivered to our doorstep with a swipe on our phone screens, or consume our daily calorie count in a blended nutritional powder, a dining concept that forces us to slow down and connect with what we’re eating – and with others around the table – feels radical.
“Is food something that should be grabbed and eaten on the subway?” says Kullik. “Sure, it can be, but I think we try to approach food more as a celebration, to try and create that community.” There’s nothing quite like sharing a spoon with your neighbour to bring people together.
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