Giulia Bernardi • 4.10.2018

Feast of the senses

What and how do we eat? The answer often disappears under the opulent cosiness of our habits. The Dutch «Steinbeisser» project wants to provide a remedy for this and is arranging experimental gourmet dinners, with which it wants to guide our habits to unaccustomed territory, where we then discard and challenge them.

Eating is in fact not only food. One thinks of sayings such as «you are what you eat» or the «Les dîners de Gala» recipe book by Salvador Dalí, whose surrealistic, partly erotic or inherently macabre imagery is devoted to the pleasures of taste, which he used to enjoy with his wife.

Whether it’s lifestyle or art – eating is not only food. This also corresponds to the philosophy of the Dutch Steinbeisser project, which was established by Jouw Wijnsma and Martin Kullik in Amsterdam in 2009. For a good six years the scrum master and the former fashion and textile designer have been running initiative gourmet dinners as part of their ‹Experimental Gastronomy›; this brings together award-winning chefs and artists to create an evening where the food is experienced differently.

The event has already taken place in Berlin and San Francisco and also for the first time in Basel in 2016. This drew the attention of Kursaal Bern to the project, which is now inviting people to Bern to attend the next edition together with Wijnsma and Kullik on 21 and 22 October.

Simon Apothéloz from “Eisblume” and Fabian Raffeiner from Restaurant Meridiano are responsible for the menu, which will be prepared in line with the Steinbeisser philosophy of a 6-course meal from vegan products that come from regional, bio-dynamic cultivation. «All the groceries used are seasonal and are grown within an area of 150 to 200 kilometres», says Martin Kullik. «On the one hand we want to raise awareness of seasonal products and on the other hand show that a high quality meal does not have to contain a piece of meat.» This is particularly important in countries such as Switzerland, where the use of animal products is still so ingrained. Kullik reassessed his own eating habits when he decided to live a vegan lifestyle seven years ago and acquired a great deal of knowledge about plant-based products.

So that guests can visualise the perception and handling of food, cutlery and crockery also play a major role for Steinbeisser. These basic items are designed by various artists at every event; this time including the Volvox studio from Zurich or the designer Laurin Schaub from Bern. «The cutlery has a lot to do with how we eat and how we perceive food», believes Kullik. «Let’s take the example of a spoon. It’s made in such a way that one can eat as much as possible in as short a time as possible. But what happens when a spoon is designed in such a way that it is unwieldy, so that one has to put it down frequently? This would change our eating habits abruptly.»

If a piece of cutlery is not intended to be functional, then designers also have a lot of freedom and are encouraged to go a step further and re-think fixed design principles.

In addition to cutlery and crockery, the location also contributes to cutting across our habits. This is because Steinbeisser intentionally selects locations, where one would not otherwise dine. In Basel for example it was the Merian Gardens and then in 2017 Museum Rietberg in Zurich. For this year’s edition, the former PTT-Hochhaus high rise building has been selected. The dinner will start on the roof and end in the high rack warehouse about 21 metres underground.

Over 70 concrete pillars tower about 20 metres high in the warehouse covering 7,000 square metres. The setting in the room will be created by the Zurich designer Sebastian Marbacher. «The exciting thing about this is that the room is not arranged for an evening meal», says Marbacher. «The absence of windows and the stark, high pillars make this space not necessarily a room where one would like to eat at first glance.» The challenge is now to create a location where people feel at ease. «I thought about how I should fill this large warehouse for a long time», explains the young designer. «I spontaneously sketched ideas on site and experimented with what could be achieved. During this process I then had an idea of making the air visible through lanterns, whose size would correspond to the dimensions of the room.» However, they should not be imposed on the space, but serve as a source of light and create a framework for the evening meal and the items that have been designed.

«For many people to like both the food and the utensils will be something they are not familiar with», is the statement with which Martin Kullik concludes the conversation. «This also explains the name Steinbeisser. The unusual aspect might also appear to some people as if they are biting on a stone», says Kullik and laughs. «And this is exactly what we want: To trigger emotions and entice our guests out of their comfort zone.»

Photography: Eric Wolfinger, Kathrin Koschitzki, Marion Luttenberger, Rein Janssen