Twelve courses at Momofuku Ko will set you back $195. Nine courses at The French Laundry cost $310. But the touring dinner series Experimental Gastronomy, put on by the Dutch studio Steinbeisser, puts them both to shame. This fall, the group's seven-course vegan meal—served at the Montalvo Arts Center villa in Saratoga, California—will run $700 a plate.
To be fair, there are eight Michelin stars' worth of chefs prepping this one-night menu for only 60 people, and the wine pairings are included. But even more than the food or opulent pricing, Steinbeisser’s meals have become renowned for their plating, on which artists and chefs collaborate on what the project describes as "peculiarly unpractical and yet unexpectedly usable pieces that combine old and new materials." The resulting pieces are surely the weirdest, most whimsical objects their diners have ever eaten with.
It’s not unheard of for high-end dining to necessitate its own eating implements. Chicago’s Alinea hired ex-blacksmith Martin Kastner to construct many of its weighty-yet-delicate pieces, such as a rocking wire that dangles bacon in front of the diner. But Steinbeisser pushes plating to its limits, and in this latest meal, the cutlery is as crazy as ever. Spoons have been fused together like Siamese twins. Carved wooden bowls mimic ancient implements and, maybe, human intestines. And the wildest pieces fuse glass lenses onto the metal, so you can stick your eyes through Victorian-era optics to get a close-up view of the food on your fork.
"Eating tools nowadays are mostly chosen by efficiency and functionality," says Steinbeisser cofounder Martin Kullik. "Even in fine dining, where we initially thought that attention goes into every little detail, the cutlery and tableware were similarly efficient and functional. We were convinced that we needed to find out how to slow down the time at the dinner table."
By "slow down time," Kullik doesn’t mean he wants the meal to literally take longer. Rather, he wants the experience of considering the dishes themselves to sink in. In the past, for example, artists played with color psychology, finding gold spoons made food taste sweeter, while blue made things taste saltier (and in turn, chefs adjusted their recipes to match). Or, by combining a fork and a spoon into one piece of silverware, experimental cutlery jarred diners into reconsidering each bite.
"If the diner experiences wonder, pleasure, and preciousness, that would be amazing," says Kullik. "And if the diner struggles a little bit that would be perfect."
Each collaboration between artist and chef is different. Some work together to plan out a coordinated dish, others are mashed up in the 11th hour in an intentional culture clash by the meal’s curators. But in all cases, these bespoke eating objects take a considerable amount of effort to produce, ranging from six hours to a few days once all of their components have been sourced.
"Stuart [Cairns] for example goes out for a walk at the beach a few times per week," says Kullik. "Once he finds some curious looking pieces of garbage—that can be bone, plastic, metal, wood, or something else—then he starts to draw with aquarelle, imagining how the [added] silver element should ideally look like. And then he starts shaping the silver and combining both."
If you’re interested in a bit of that struggle to bring home, Steinbeisser is planning to begin selling some of its experimental cutlery online soon. You can sign up for more information here.
[All Images: via Steinbeisser]