MARIJE VOGELZANG OF PROEF, DESIGNER AND RESTAURATEUR

09.12.11 — BY MONICA KHEMSUROV in Sight Unseen Magazine

Back in 2000, when Marije Vogelzang had graduated from Eindhoven with a product-design degree and begun turning a school project — a funeral table set with all-white cuisine — into fodder for her nascent career, food design was still a relatively unknown discipline. Martí Guixé was already making experimental tapas and rice wine bottles with edible corks, butArabeschi di Latte didn’t exist yet, Jennifer Rubell’s first art-brunch was still eight years away, and other young would-be practitioners like Franke ElshoutAnnelies HermsenKatja Gruijters, and Janina Loeve were still just a twinkle in Li Edelkoort’s eye. By the time Vogelzang founded Proef, her Amsterdam restaurant and food lab, in 2004, she was at the leading edge of a movement that aimed to use creativity and critical thinking to heighten the sensory and emotional experience of eating. Ten years, countless interactive food events, one book, and a TED Talk later, her ideas are a constant source of curiosity for those both within the design world and beyond. We at Sight Unseen have personally been fans of Vogelzang’s work since we first took a hammer to her clay-baked vegetables at the London Design Festival in 2008 — an opinion only reinforced as we sipped artisanal cocktails laced with edible flowers at Proef this past winter — so we tracked her down to find out more about her own personal adventures in eating.


Marije Vogelzang’s Essentials

RESTAURANT
“Of course I like Proef (above) because it’s exactly how I would like a restaurant to be: relaxed, great food, playful, different. I also enjoyed Momofuku in New York, and the fact that you could order a whole pig’s butt. But I went to Noma two weeks ago in Copenhagen, so I remember it the most vividly: I loved the experience of being allowed to eat with my hands, and that in the setting of this fine dining restaurant I still felt comfortable licking my fingers and relaxing. (Of course there wasn’t much time for relaxation, since the parade of small, exciting dishes was served at a very high pace.) I was intrigued with eating moss and with how pure simplicity alternated with more complex and surprising flavors.

“One course was a living shrimp on ice. At first I thought it was a bit of a cheap way to get a reaction out of people, but later I realized that the psychological effect of the experience was very interesting. I had some trouble eating the shrimp, and I chewed it over-the-top hard just to be sure it wouldn’t jump up and down in my mouth. I felt really silly about it, but I couldn’t help shivering a little. I asked the waiter whether mostly women were having trouble with the living shrimp, but he told me there was a couple the other day where the woman had already directly eaten it and the man was screaming about it. After a while the woman got so fed up with him that she took the shrimp, tore its head off, and threw it on the man’s plate, exclaiming: ‘There you go! Now it’s DEAD! Are you happy now?’”

RESTAURANT VISITED WHILE TRAVELING
“Street food in Bangkok, Manna Epicure in Cape Town, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Tim Ho Wan for Michelin-starred dim sum in Taipei, DeliCees Dordrecht in the Netherlands, Taji the Chef’s Japanese pop-up restaurant,Tawlet in Beirut, and Jeff and Lisa in Michigan, who do theSelma underground breakfast restaurant. I was in town for a lecture about eating design at the University of Michigan when I was taken to Jeff and Lisa’s: Every week breakfast is prepared by different chefs, either professional or amateur, and by attending you’re helping support the building of greenhouses for local organic farmers. All the produce served is organic and local. What I remember most was the atmosphere — upon entering their house, you get a piece of tape to use as a nametag, and everybody instantly started to connect and interact with each other. Friendships were being made over tasty food. When I was there, a neighbor passed by with his pet llama, who then walked into the house. According to the regulars that was rather normal…”


FOOD SHOP
“Dean and Deluca and Whole Foods in New York, Kaufhaus des Westens in Berlin, and Souk el Tayeb Farmers market in Beirut, a wonderful place founded by Kamal Mouzawak. There’s a kind of crafted marshmallow they sell at Dean and Deluca that inspired me to start making marshmallow clouds and icebergs.
Marshmallow icebergs. Make your own tasty inner-climate change. Melts in any hot beverage.
Marshmallow clouds. Made with real rain. Also available: dark and gloomy clouds. 

INGREDIENT
“Sundried mango, the one without sugar. Every piece is somehow different — sweet, sour, crumbly, chewy hmmm! But I can’t use it at Proef because it doesn’t fit the concept of working only with local ingredients. Mangoes don’t grow in the Netherlands. I’m also very much into using the middle eastern herb Za’ataar.”

DINNER PARTY SOUNDTRACK
“Bang Bang by Nancy Sinatra.”

KITCHEN TOOL
“I’m a huge fan of the vegetable peeler. A few different northern European countries claim they invented it — people think that’s very funny because it shows how economical their culture is, to produce the least waste possible! But I like it not only for peeling a very thin layer but also for making thin slices of, for example, carrots. If you take purple carrots and slice them lengthwise, you see the beautiful color change the carrots generally have on the inside. You can also use a peeler to make a vegetable ‘tagliatelle.’”

FAMILY RECIPE
“Using a passe-vite (food mill) to make vegetable soup. I rarely see another Dutch family that uses one of those. My grandma’s soup is my mother’s soup and mine as well, but we all make it differently. It’s a tomato soup, so we only make it in the summertime. You need to get a heap of cheap and overripe tomatoes from the market. The trick is to boil the tomatoes with other vegetables like leeks, onions, a few peppers, and herbs like celery and parsley but NOT to use water — just the juice that’s naturally inside the tomatoes. (But as I said it’s always different, and there are no exact measurements.) Eventually you put everything through the passe vite and you end up with a very thick, nicely textured, super healthy soup. You could add some chilis, soy sauce, Marmite, or whatever you like to give it a bit of tartness. My mom adds soybean sprouts. I like to add ginger and make it more hot.”

TABLE CENTERPIECE
“A heap of beautiful root vegetables. I’ve also done a couple of dinners where I made sculptures of root vegetables baked in clay (above); one would have to hammer the sculpture, break the clay, and then discover the warm tempting scent of a fragrant baked root and herbs.”

COOKING RITUAL
“There are different ways of cooking: relaxed cooking, fast cooking to feed your family in time. Both require different strategies. But I do like to have music on while cooking so I can make a little dance if necessary…”

FOOD THINKER
“I met Michael Pollan at PopTech in Maine. I like his curiosity, and I respect the simplicity of his statement to just eat whatever your grandparents would recognize as food. In my work I tend to do crazy things, but most of the time I like to keep the food as pure as possible. I don’t design food. Food is already perfectly designed by nature.”

DINNER PARTY ICE-BREAKER
“I use the idea of sharing a lot in my work. If food can be shared with others, conversations start to happen naturally. In 2008, I held a sharing dinner at the Axis gallery in Tokyo (above). Cloth extended down from the ceiling to drape over each of the guests, who became equal because their identity — as communicated through their clothes — was covered. Every guest got one part of the meal, and people were encouraged to share.”

The happening team at A Razor, A Shiny Knife served lunch to diners riding a NYC subway train, with each course's chef entering the train at a designated stop. Best yet, they made a fabulous video about it!

 

Can You Throw a 60-Second Party?
Avant-garde Dutch restaurateur Marije Vogelzang and design superstar Marcel Wanders can—with a "one minute"–themed dinner full of brilliant and beautiful ideas.
By Gisela Williams, Food & Wine Magazine July 2007

When Marije Vogelzang throws one of her high-concept dinner parties, guests never know quite what to expect—except that she’ll come up with a radical approach that is certain to challenge accepted ideas about food and social interaction. She might attach all the wineglasses in the room together in one giant web, or "tattoo" pieces of food with provocative words like "energy" and "good for memory," or host a formal banquet in a field amid cows and wildflowers. Since Vogelzang launched her restaurant Proef in Rotterdam three years ago (with a new branch in Amsterdam last fall), the 29-year-old self-described "food designer" has won a cult following. Vogelzang, a graduate of the Netherlands’s prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven, says her goal is to "tell stories about food, so I use design as a tool." She has an impressive coterie of collaborators, including influential Dutch designers like Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerius and Jurgen Bey.

Some of Vogelzang’s ideas are starkly literal. For instance, she once crafted guns out of sugar "to make visual what sugar can do to you." Other concepts are highly abstract, like the ones employed in the now-legendary holiday dinner she threw for the famous Dutch design collective Droog in 2005. For that party, Vogelzang riffed on the idea of sharing—in a way that dispensed with holiday cliché. She hung a tablecloth from the ceiling and poked holes in it for guests to stick their heads and arms through—"to connect everyone," she says. Vogelzang, a passionate supporter of local farmers, served different main courses to her guests: Some got roasted pork, others wild mushrooms with spring-onion gravy, and others a broiled pumpkin stuffed with seasoned nuts or sautéed potatoes with fresh herb cream. "Immediately, people started cutting up their food and sharing it and trying different things," says Vogelzang. By being forced to trade some of their food with others in order to compose a meal, guests paid closer attention to the ingredients on their plates—all sustainably raised from local farms.

Guests were encouraged to cut away the tablecloth with scissors as they ate. "Most of the guests didn’t know each other when they arrived," Vogelzang said, "but soon they bonded over the rebellious experience of cutting up the cloth."

Vogelzang got her professional start in the restaurant business when she opened Proef in Rotterdam, in partnership with Piet Hekker, owner of that city’s revered De Bakkerswinkel bakeries. She had first captured Hekker’s attention at the renowned Rotterdam-based designer Jurgen Bey’s wedding, where she served a cake made of fruit-filled soesjes (round Dutch puff pastries) that she covered with melted sugar, red berries and edible flowers so that it resembled a lush field. The Amsterdam branch of Proef is in the Westergasfabriek, a historic factory. Vogelzang uses the space as a lab for experimenting with food-design ideas and as a dinner-party venue, and on summer weekends, she turns it into a café that serves salads, soups, homemade breads and simple foods inspired by her latest projects. For instance, during the seemingly endless, gray days of this past winter, Proef Amsterdam served "light therapy" dishes, like a luscious ginger carrot cake, made with ingredients that grow in the dark. "The idea was, you don’t need light to get through the dark days," Vogelzang says. This summer she plans to prepare slow-cooked to-go meals for picnickers exploring the Westergasfabriek’s surrounding park: "I want to put numbers on some of the trees, so people can call us and tell us what tree they’re sitting under, and we’ll deliver a picnic to them."

For a recent dinner party, Vogelzang teamed up with Wanders, known for the iconic items he produced for Droog in the 1990s, like the Knotted Chair and the Sponge Vase, and also for more recent inventions like the Airborne Snotty Vase (a series of vases made from a mold that gets its abstract shape from a digital image of Wanders sneezing). Vogelzang and Wanders decided to build their party around a "one minute" theme, partly inspired by Wanders’s One Minute line, a collection of items like white gold-rimmed dishes reminiscent of the handprint plates kids make in kindergarten. Wanders only spends about 60 seconds on the prototype for each plate, in keeping with the theme.

On the day of the party, Wanders rapidly twisted bread dough into different shapes, some resembling animals—just like the one-minute sculptures he has made at home with his daughter. Vogelzang’s staff scattered sculptures around the table as decorations, put Wanders’s One Minute plates at each setting and used Snotty Vases as centerpieces.

Soon, the guests began to drift in: They included young designers from Wanders’s studio; Vogelzang’s business partner Hekker and his partner, Tony de Jong; and Liesbeth Jansen, the Westergasfabriek’s director. Wanders’s colleagues, fresh from a recent design conference, started discussing the invention they’d debuted there, called the Crochet Chair. It was made from hand-sewn crocheted flowers that had been stitched together, draped over a chair mold and coated with resin.

Wanders’s girlfriend, the Dutch choreographer Nanine Linning, soon arrived. Wanders started talking about one of the couple’s recent collaborations, "a stupid, crazy and beautiful idea" called the Happy Hour Chandelier, an enormous light fixture they’ve been bringing to parties around the world. Linning hangs from the chandelier, twisting around to offer guests Champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

The Proef staff started filing out of the kitchen with the starters Vogelzang had prepared: plates of grilled marinated "forgotten vegetables" (Jerusalem artichokes, black salsify and parsnips) from a Dutch farmer who only plants rare varieties; quail eggs cooked three ways—scrambled, fried and boiled whole with their tops cut off—and mixed with a crunchy combination of nuts, fresh herbs and fennel; and piping-hot french fries made from three different types of potatoes and served with homemade mayonnaise.

Vogelzang explained that she wanted the starters to look somewhat crude, to fit into the one-minute theme: "I chopped the vegetables roughly and unevenly to give them a variety of textures. Different textures create different tastes."

For the main course, Vogelzang more strictly interpreted the one-minute idea, cutting fresh tuna and salmon and earthy root vegetables and mushrooms into the same round shape, each of a thickness that cooked perfectly in 60 seconds. "I was thinking of Chinese stir-fry, where cooks chop up the ingredients to just the right thickness so that everything is done at the same time," Vogelzang said. She then arranged all of the ingredients into towering, colorful stacks. "I like it when an idea is visible in the food," Vogelzang added.

Some guests bit into their stacks one or two layers at a time; others tried to cut through the entire tower. Every bite—depending on how a guest grappled with the stack—yielded a different and often surprising flavor combination.

Said Wanders as he finished his stack, "Food can be a material, and you can use it as a way to project concepts. Food has always been at the frontier of creativity."

As guests said their good-byes and left—on bicycles, in typical Amsterdam style—Vogelzang summed up why food is, for her, the most exciting medium to work with. "I find it amazing to design something that people actually put into their bodies. You can’t get any closer to someone than you can with food."

Proef Amsterdam, Gosschalklaan 12; 011-31-20-682-2656. Proef Rotterdam, Mariniersweg 259; 011-31-10-280-7297. Marcel Wanders, marcelwanders.com.

Gisela Williams, F&W’s Europe correspondent, is a freelance writer based in Munich.
This article originally appeared in July, 2007.

The New York Times

February 21, 2007
When Meals Played the Muse
By RANDY KENNEDY

THE artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who died in 1978 at age 35, loved to cook, but he could never quite unbraid his culinary passions from those of artmaking, with sometimes bizarre dinner party results. At one, recalled his widow, Jane Crawford, he cooked a lovely whole sea bass, but it emerged from the kitchen encased in a block of aspic nearly three feet long. He unmolded it, then gave the table a good kick, so that the aspic wobbled wildly and the bass seemed to fishtail upstream.

“All the guests looked at it with this sort of horror and amazement,” Ms. Crawford said recently. “In the end my mundane chicken stew got eaten and everyone was too afraid to touch the fish.”

A retrospective of Matta-Clark’s brief, highly influential career opening tomorrow at the Whitney Museum of American Art will shine a new spotlight on the close but sometimes unsung affinities between the worlds of art and food, and also on one celebrated example of their coming together, the pioneering SoHo restaurant Food, which Matta-Clark helped found in 1971 at the corner of Prince and Wooster Streets.

The restaurant lasted not quite three years in its original incarnation, as the artists who cooked in it and who ran it, more as a utopian enterprise than a business, burned out or moved on. But many of the vaguely countercultural ideas fostered there — fresh and seasonal foods, a geographically catholic menu, a kitchen fully open to the dining room, cooking as a kind of performance — have now become so ingrained in restaurants in New York and other large cities that it is hard to remember a time when such a place would have seemed almost extraterrestrial.

The restaurant, for example, served sushi and sashimi at a time when they were still not widely seen in New York. (It was the idea of Hisachika Takahashi, assistant to the artist Robert Rauschenberg; one early menu simply described it as raw mackerel with wasabi sauce.) The same menu featured ceviche, borscht, rabbit stew with prunes, stuffed tongue Creole and a fig, garlic and anchovy salad. Big communal dishes of chopped parsley and fresh butter were kept on the counters. Bakers came down from the Mad Brook Farm commune in Vermont to make the bread. Two nights a week the cooks — modern dancers by trade — were vegetarians and so was the menu, a kind of flexibility that was Food’s trademark. At least once the owners opened one of the restaurant’s large windows onto the street and sold stalks of sugar cane to passers-by.

Artists were also invited weekly to serve as guest chefs, and the whole dinner was considered a performance art piece. One of the most fabled, costing $4, was Matta-Clark’s “bone dinner,” which featured oxtail soup, roasted marrow bones and frogs’ legs, among other bony entrees. After the plates were cleared, the bones were scrubbed and strung together so that diners could wear their leftovers home.

“It looked like an anthropological site,” said the artist Keith Sonnier, another guest chef and a member of the extended Food crowd, one that also included members of Philip Glass’s ensemble, dancers from Trisha Brown’s company and other artists like Robert Kushner and Donald Judd, who lived in SoHo before it was called SoHo.

“You have to realize at that particular time in New York,” Mr. Sonnier added, “people did not eat bone marrow.”

But while it was ahead of its time as a restaurant, it was also a perfect expression of its scrappy, hippie era, when many young artists and creative people in New York and elsewhere had little money for good food — and few options adventurous enough for them anyway. The same year, 1971, Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., as “a simple little place where we could cook and talk politics,” sparking a fresh-and-seasonal-foods revolution in America. In 1973 a collective of artists and communal farmers founded the Moosewood Restaurant, the vegetarian standard-bearer, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Mitchell Davis, a vice president of the James Beard Foundation and an adjunct professor in New York University’s food studies program, said that while restaurants like Food bubbled up from the counterculture, their influence eventually changed mainstream culture. “These people were not on the path to being chefs or restaurateurs or professional food people,” he said. “They were like: ‘Hey, we like to cook. We can do this. Why not?’ And in doing it they ended up knocking down all these barriers of wealth and class and status in the restaurant world.”

Caroline Goodden, a photographer and dancer who was then Matta-Clark’s girlfriend, said the idea for Food grew partly out of a floating dinner party scene that materialized in many of the cheap lofts inhabited, legally or not, by artists and performers in Lower Manhattan, including a group of Louisiana expatriates who played with Mr. Glass and cooked Cajun feasts for their friends.

At one of her parties, organized around a flower theme — edible flowers were served to guests who came dressed as flowers — Matta-Clark half-jokingly suggested that Ms. Goodden start a restaurant. She took him up on it, sinking substantial sums of her own money into it. Taking over the lease from a failed Puerto Rican restaurant, she, Matta-Clark and another downtown artist named Tina Girouard set about gutting and rebuilding the space in June 1971 with help from other friends, creating one of the few places to eat in the neighborhood at the time, besides Fanelli’s bar.

From the beginning, the idea was to establish not only a kind of perpetual dinner party but also a food-based philanthropy that would employ and support struggling artists, the whole endeavor conceived by Matta-Clark as a living, breathing, steaming, pot-clanging artwork.

“To Gordon, I think everything in life was an art event,” said Ms. Goodden, who now lives in a small town in New Mexico. “He had cooking all through his mind as a way of assembling people, like choreography. And that, in a way, is what Food became.”

In a catalog to accompany his retrospective, Elisabeth Sussman, the curator of the Whitney show, describes it as providing “the best picture of an artists’ utopia, in all its extraordinary ordinariness, that Matta-Clark imagined.”

Artists, of course, have long imagined their utopias coming equipped with kitchens. “The Futurist Cookbook,” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1932 manifesto, declared war on pasta and demanded that eating be an ecstatic experience, almost a derangement of the senses. (One dinner includes perfumes that precede each dish, wafted by electric fans.) Food has also served as a visual, conceptual and sometimes consumable conceit in the art world since long before Arcimboldo’s much-reproduced 16th-century portraits of men’s heads composed of fish, fruits and vegetables.

Beginning in the 1960s, partly for political reasons, food began playing a more prominent role in artists’ work. Allan Kaprow, the artist who coined the term “happenings,” frequently used food; in 1970 he built a wall of bread, with jelly for mortar, near the Berlin Wall. In 1971 Matta-Clark cooked a whole pig under the Brooklyn Bridge and served 500 pork sandwiches as part of a performance. In the 1990s Rirkrit Tiravanija’s performances famously turned New York galleries into kitchens, where the Thai curry was both art and dinner.

But food as medium and muse is not necessarily the same thing as food that needs to balance the books. Ms. Goodden and the founders of the restaurant had little experience with accounting and payroll, taxes and inventory, and less interest in running a conventional business. “I had the ridiculous idea of serving a glass of milk for 5 cents for pure nostalgic reasons,” Ms. Goodden recalled, in a memoir she is writing.

She added that on the occasions when the art overtook the food, art was usually allowed to carry the day, cash register notwithstanding. At one dinner performance, Matta-Clark served live brine shrimp swimming in broth in the middle of a halved, cooked egg white. “Some nonartist customers were furious and claimed there should be a law against us,” she wrote. “We told them guest chef days were no holds barred days and they could leave if they wished. So they did.”

About 60 artists are estimated to have worked at the restaurant as cooks, waiters and busboys over the first three years. Most came and went frequently, depending on their whims and artistic fortunes. In one scene in a short film made by Matta-Clark with the help of the photographer Robert Frank, “A Day in the Life of Food,” a group of cooks can be seen on a break, trying to figure out who will take the morning shift. In the middle of the discussion one lights up a joint and passes it around. Ms. Goodden’s big Alaskan sled dog, Glaza, can also be seen occasionally wandering through the kitchen.

Throughout those early days Matta-Clark was more of a guiding spirit than a full-time employee. “Gordon wasn’t a regular cook,” Ms. Girouard said, laughing. “We wouldn’t let him.”

And so even as the restaurant was becoming an increasingly fashionable scene, a precursor of the SoHo to come — “Pretty much the whole art community was coming in there at one point,” Ms. Girouard said — its proprietors were sometimes struggling to keep it going, and Ms. Goodden often found herself mopping floors at midnight only to get up again at 4 a.m. to make the rounds at the Fulton Fish Market.

“We put our hearts and souls and butts into that place,” Ms. Girouard said,, un adding, “I could talk to you for months about it.”

By 1974 Ms. Goodden and the others still involved decided to sell the restaurant, which endured through the 1980s in various forms before closing, its space taken over by a women’s clothing boutique.

“Though we consumed food, Food consumed us,” Ms. Goodden once wrote. “It was a free enterprise which gave food away much too freely.” But, she added, with all the enthusiasm of the times: “The joy is the idea. The idea, as an idea, worked. It was a beautiful, nourishing, vital, stimulating new concept, which was a living, pulsating hub of creative energy — and piles of fresh parsley.”