Photos by Lara Kastner
I have been collaborating with Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail Design Studio since 2003. Together we have developed over 30 new pieces of service ware in an effort to parallel the innovations of the kitchen with that of the dishes they are served on.
In some cases it didn't make sense to me functionally, aesthetically, or conceptually to serve modern gastronomy on the same bowls and plates, and using the forks and knives that have been used for over 300 years. As we began to challenge and refine the aspects of food service with success, ideas of merging Martin's approach with design and mine of cooking began to surface. We talked about trying to make a truly unique art installation where the limitations of operating a restaurant would not impede the creative possibilities of food combining with design to form a different kind of art.
Can we push further to merge the worlds of cuisine and art? Can we change how food is perceived if we create within the framework of "art" and not restaurant?
Our first baby step in this direction came in 2004 when we were invited to participate in the Food and Wine magazine's Entertaining Showcase event at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. During this time we were still in the development and construction phases of Alinea, so the event provided an opportunity for us to introduce the restaurant to the Chicago dining public for the first time, and give people a sneak peek at what the restaurant would be about.
Restaurants and chefs are constantly asked to do fundraising events to benefit various charities within the community. While most chefs are very generous with their resources and try to contribute in a meaningful way...to be completely honest, these events are a pain in the ass. Chefs are forced to meet the expectations of hundreds and even thousands of people at one time, while being operationally and creatively handcuffed. The makeshift kitchens often consist of induction burners and fold-up tables, and the use of plastic service ware and the inevitable surrendering of complete control in the manner in which the food is served and the environment it is served in becomes extremely difficult.
However, as with most things in the realm of creativity, problems provide inspiration.
Because we were looking at this as our first impression to many people, we went about the creative process much in the same way we would when approaching an aspect of designing Alinea. We analyzed all of the event's elements; the number of people per hour, the traffic flows, the characteristics of the space in which the event would be held (including the lighting, color palate, and textures of the surface), and the typical problems with events of this nature. This included the common practice of carrying a plate of food in one hand and a glass in the other while trying to both consume and be social with people, often strangers, that you were herded into the feeding line next to.