Remember when Mom scolded you for playing with the food on your plate? Not any longer.
There's a growing international trend by makers, designers and artists who are taking preconceived ideas of how tableware and cutlery should relate to the user and turning them (sometimes quite literally,) on their heads.
Former textile designer, Martin Kullik is one such provocateur. He and business partner Jouw Wijnsma are behind the initiative Steinbesser Experimental Gastronomy, based at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam.
"Steinbeisser literally means biting on rock in German," Kullik says with a laugh while Skyping from Amsterdam. "It's a metaphor describing our projects that challenge people to not follow rules of preconceived relationships between food, tableware and function. We bring together renowned chefs at international dinners of about 50 people throughout the year."
This year, they have already lined up chefs from New York, Zurich, Copenhagen and Berlin, who will "prepare organic vegan food from locally sourced suppliers, and extraordinary artists create the cutlery and dishware for an overall experience that really stimulates conversation," Kullik says.
"Local makers are actually present at all the dinners and watching guests try to figure out how to use the utensils is so much fun. It arouses their curiosity and all of a sudden people who might have come to dinner as strangers are talking to their neighbours."
Kullik and Wijnsma have also created an ever-changing curated online store featuring the work of international makers, called Jouw (translates from the Dutch as "yours").
"You know, people barely chew any more," Kullik observes. "Everyone just rushes when they eat. Interactive tableware forces people to really slow down and think about how not just about what they're going to eat."
New York-based Russian contemporary jewellery designer Sergey Jivetin's fascinating Spectacle cutlery series channels both Edward Scissorhands and Charles Darwin. His Binocular Spoon Fork composed of antique mother-of-pearl opera glasses hand– fabricated to a small fork and spoon, allows the diner to playfully examine minute morsels of food as do his antique brass Map Viewer Tripod and Navigational Divider cutlery. They all reflect his keen study of industrial and medical engineering. "Sergey's cutlery was a big hit when we served a dessert of white chocolate truffles and herb sorbet that was incredibly detailed to see with the human eye," Kullik says. $1,950-$2,200 through jouwstore.com
Tala Yuan's sensuous organic bowls and spoons are hand-carved from dried calabash gourds. Living and working in China, she says that users of her utensils "will experience a range of emotions, like a child just learning to eat, full of curiosity." All her pieces can be carefully cleaned with soap and water then seasoned with linseed or walnut oil. Bowls $123, spoons from $70 through jouwstore.com
With his studio near a railway yard in Tallinn, Estonia, blacksmith, teacher, sculptor and jewellery designer, Nils Hint finds tools from the Soviet Union era then upcycles them by forging then gilding one end into functional cutlery. His alchemy conjures wrenches into spoons and forks, adjustable spanners and pliers into knives and even an ice cream scoop into a fork. And, in a pinch, they'll go from tableware to fixing your faucet. $140-$210 through jouwstore.com
"I love colour and movement when I design and hand-carve all my serving pieces," says Eva Burton Skyping from Idar-Oberstein near Frankfurt, Germany. Originally from Buenos Aires, Burton works in wood, granite and agate. Monocycle, like all her serving pieces, rocks gently from side-to-side when touched. Sculptural on their own, they become artisanal showpieces for appetizers, cheeses and petite desserts. Says Burton: "I want to be able to change the table into a daily playground that says 'welcome home.'" $1,257 through jouwstore.com
Monkey see, monkey do. Getting ready to exhibit at Milan's Salone del Mobile in April, Italian craftsman, art director and interior designer, Vito Nesta's playful personality is translated into his work: figures and mischievous creatures dance or grab each other's tails on his exquisite decorative porcelain plates. "I grew up on a farm so I really love animals, even the wild ones," Nesta says. Inspired by the patterns and mosaic tiles of the opulent Ottoman Empire, Nesta gives all six richly colourful limited edition plates in his Constantinople Collection, a contemporary twist. Peer in closely and a peacock is chasing a butterfly; on another plate, an ungainly elephant daintily balances on her front legs. $95 (U.S.) each through artemest.com
Applied artist and glass-blower, Jochen Holz's collection of woozy wine glasses are not a result of too much imbibing. He deliberately wanted to explore how far a traditional wine glass could be altered and off-centred and still be functional. "I use prefabricated borosilicate glass tubing which I buy in different sizes, wall thicknesses, profiles and colours," he says from his U.K. studio. "Objects which are unique and individual demand attention and invite the user to engage with them." $115 through jouwstore.com
Philadelphia's FELT+FAT's quirky Broken Reassembled collection of 3-D plates and platters, teasingly challenges users to discover where the real food starts and dishware ends. Contrary to the name, co-founder and ceramicist, "Wynn [Bauer] and I didn't smash plates but we recycled chipped, cracked, and all kinds of ceramic scraps, in abstract shapes as well as production waste before glazing," explains designer Nate Mell. $335 through jouwstore.com
Not for the faint-of-heart, Switzerland's Gabi Veit's unconventional Vices and Spoons series are based on the seven deadly sins. A contemporary jewellery designer, "I've been collecting spoons from all over the world for years and recreating my own designs using modelling and lost wax casting. They are often based on plant life and always tell a story," she explains. Her spiked Thorn Spoon (oxidized 925 sterling silver) and Red Thorn Spoon (bronze and iron) represent, not surprisingly, Ira, the Latin for "wrath" or "anger." Both would make apropos additions to Queen Cersei Lannister's dining table on Game of Thrones. $1,040 and $845 through jouwstore.com
Visit steinbeisser.org for details of the 2017 international Experimental Gastronomy dinners.