It’s not often that architects get to collaborate with world-renowned chocolatiers, molecular biologists, or charcoal makers. But that’s exactly what Vitra Design Museum asked five young Dutch designers to do earlier this year.
As part of their Gerrit Rietveld retrospective, the museum’s curators paired the designers with leading members of wildly disparate industries. The brief? Design something. Anything. Confrontations—an exhibition of the resulting collaborations—went on view this week at the museum.
Studio Wieki Somers, a 10-year-old office based in Rotterdam, were paired with noted chocolatier Rafael Mutter, whose small shop in the south German town of Freiburg is internationally popular for its unusual flavor pairings and aesthetics.
Mutter and Somers started out with a simple goal: Reinvent the experience of tasting chocolate. "We sometimes forget how astounding it is," explains Somers. "It’s been a long time since chocolate was a rare substance; a sacred drink, a medicine." The team began experimenting with molding, layering white chocolate patterns and shapes into wide swatches of milk chocolate—a process the studio compares to "inserting memories into it like fossils." But while it looked cool, the patterned chocolate tasted pretty standard. "We wanted to change some rules and generating a new ritual; a new way of eating and sharing chocolate," says Somers.
The team began to wonder about how the chocolate was sliced, its texture, and its density. Experiments with a rotating Swiss cheese slicer produced delicate chocolate shavings. The slicing process also exposed different layers of the patterned chocolate, slowly revealing new shapes and colors as it turned. By molding chocolate blocks embedded with patterns and even images, they could "animate" a story, using a mill designed to shave away a fraction of a millimeter of the surface with every revolution. The twist of the handle reveals a couple dancing, fractal patterns, even tribal motifs moving in the chocolate blocks. "By turning the mill you witness a mysterious kaleidoscopic effect in which African Bobo masks emerge," says Somers. "Cocoa pickers believe they have a special power to bring a good harvest."
"Eating the delicate flowers generated by this process will be a completely new experience of tasting chocolate," hope the designers. They’re unveiling the chocolate mill on June 15th in a demonstration at Vitra Design Museum, and this seems like one of those projects that’s too delicious to fail.