However hare-brained an idea may sound, it may well work if it captures the zeitgeist, arouses curiosity and is brought to life with idealism and enthusiasm. This is precisely what the Experimental Gastronomy Initiative, which the Steinbeisser founders Martin Kullik and Jouw Wijnsma set up in 2012, is all about.
Real – not only digital
Kullik and Wijnsma are successful because they have realised just how important personal experience is. “People no longer want to sit in front of their computers, ordering all sorts of things”, co-founder Wijnsma explains. “We have an appetite for real, personal experiences. Naturally, things digital will continue to play their role. Our events, our cuisine, our art is, for example, ideal for presentation on Instagram. But that is only a small part of the story”.
“The most important thing is to partake jointly with others in creating something exciting, something special and something worth remembering”. Jouw Wijnsma That is why the Steinbeisser events strike a chord. But living vegan is by no means a prerequisite. Quite the contrary. Many participants have no real ties to vegan cuisine and are simply curious as to what they will get to taste and experience. They are prepared to engage with our exceptional concept. And this also involves throwing conventions overboard – and perhaps even eating your salad straight from the tablecloth.
Wood, coal, steel
And then there are the works of art, those odd-looking dining utensils which are from time to time difficult to use but which are nevertheless wielded with a smile, shared with neighbours, precisely examined, gradually building up a relationship with them. Whether old Russian industrial tools, a finely curved wooden amulet or an intricate stainless-steel construction – these pieces are always good for a surprise, with their versatility and their extravagance, precisely like the crockery. Pouffy cushions made from potter's clay. Art to get your hands on, to smell and to taste. “We aim to question eating habits, break down established structures and even tentatively change our approach to art”, explains Martin Kullik, the man at the helm of the organisation.
These events have nothing in common with a formal dinner at a restaurant. This was what convinced chefde- cuisine Yoji Tokuyoshi to become involved. Initially, the celebrity chef was very sceptical. Vegan cuisine? In a greenhouse? In Basle? But in the end he was lured by the challenge along with the opportunity to experiment. And, not least, he was in thrall to the fantastic ambience: The abundant Merian gardens with their profusion of blossoms – and their first-class range of vegetables.
As many ingredients as possible are fresh from the garden's own herb and vegetable beds. Consequently, Tokuyoshi came to Switzerland armed with only one single idea instead of detailed, elaborated menus in order to see with his own eyes what was available to stage the event. Pumpkin and nasturtiums, sweet peppers and parsley, leeks and garden lovage – thanks to the wonderful summer, he was able to pick from an embarrassment of riches. The order of the menu was therefore a varied, creative and extremely intensive- tasting composition: from cereal risotto with herbs to water melon paprika carpaccio and Jerusalem artichoke ice-cream with tomatoes and figs. The artful arrangement on out-of-the-ordinary items of crockery was a feat of sensory perfection. The beaming smile on Tokuyoshi's face as the evening drew to a close showed that he was capable of enjoying the pleasures of life – just like his guests.
Encouraged by the many positive responses over recent years, the Steinbeisser founders will naturally continue the series: Further dates have already been finalised or are pencilled in. Alongside Amsterdam on June 14-16, even New York is scheduled for May 18-19.
And that, too, is part of the allure of the event: Everything is in a state of flux. Sometimes it's the town, sometimes the location or the chef, and always the art – the experience is unique. And that perpetuates the magic. If guests don't satisfy their hunger the first time, they willingly come back for more. The next event offers a new opportunity for an evening of unforgettable live memories.
Further information: www.steinbeisser.org
3 questions for Othmar Prenner
The artist and sculptor created a large number of works of crockery art which were used at the event in Basle.
How did you end up as part of the project, and why did you get involved?
I was asked by Martin Kullik and Jouw Wijnsma whether I would be interested in producing crockery for these events. I am always enthusiastic about pushing boundaries and experimenting. We live in a world which is all too standardised and compartmentalised. I find breaking through those standards tantalising.
How did you develop the wooden bowls for the event?
The archaic and elementary approach in processing the objects was a source of great attraction to me. It all starts with the materials – wood, stone and iron. The wooden objects are all carved from single pieces of solid timber and then
charred over flames.
What do you want participants to experience?
The works should, above all, contain an element of surprise. Encounters with materials and surfaces should reveal that there is more to life than unimaginative and monotonous standards.
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