Eating to live or living to eat is a question that has been debated for many years now. From major food crises to the malaise of farmers, we are coming to understand that foodstuff, from its production to our kitchens, is a critical issue. Food not only provides for our well-being, our immunities and pleasure, it also breeds another relationship to our planet, advocating for a more respectful society as well as, we hope, a happier one.
We decided to talk to Germain Bourré, one of the people reflecting on our food of tomorrow. He happens to head up the Culinary Design Master’s degree programme at the College of Art and Design (ESAD) in Reims, where he develops teaching programs as well as original projects with the business world, such as with the Maison Taittinger. A way to enable students to scope out potential professional careers. A treat for your tastebuds!
I was trained at ESAD but I grew up in Blois, my feet in the Loire and my mind in the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci had a great influence on me; he is omnipresent in my life. I regularly pore over his notebooks; they are my bedside reading, so interesting because he studied everything. As a designer, you have to observe people, watch how they change and any eventual trends in their habits and practices. Our profession is to accompany and support them.
One approach towards culinary design was to consider foodstuffs in the same way as wood, metal or stone are seen by a sculptor.
We have to observe them carefully and with respect, to be open to what they have to tell us. This sensitive viewpoint can lead to an offbeat viewpoint, enabling innovative creation.
The other approach is to test the waters at a business or of an economy, to become familiar with the history of a person or product, to assess the specificity, to forage out the soul, the purpose. When I work with a chef, I start with discussing their personal story as well as that of the restaurant. Gradually, listening helps foster a new perspective of their cuisine, enabling you to find new terms, to introduce new tools for expressing what they want to say with regard to their specificities and products.
Designers are not meant to create restaurant menus, we are not kitchen chefs. Nor are we confined to just designing chairs; we create an apparatus for thinking, creation, and reinterpretation so as to imagine what could be the menu of a certain chef or the meal of some event, or even to propose interludes with surprising tastes with a view to fully enjoying a special experience.
Many farmers and market gardeners are taking another look at the crops planted, cultivation methods and the prospects for living from their production. They reap and some of them change. New issues emerge since there are an increasing number of individual initiatives. These businesses then need a new identity: another packaging or processing rationale… And we are here to support them. As an example, we worked on a launch for a range of vegetable chips in Vexin county. We were involved in the processing, packaging, laboratory plans… In the end, we reduced the cooking period from 20 minutes to 3 minutes so as to conserve the textures, vitamins and flavours.
We are committed to vindicating a true culinary specificity. Responsive, considerate and enthusiastic, we support all these transformations with a view to resisting the fatal temptation of “producing just because it’s satisfying and it pays” without worrying about the long-term consequences. I am convinced we will be eating better in the future.
There is no single truth, there is only pleasure. A good meal is when everyone is together at table to share in conversation. The table is symbolic, a forum for meeting and dialogue. Even at a picnic with no table, the notion of dialogue is still implicit.
When with my family, I prepare by myself or with my children. Depending on timing, I mince thinly (or not) shallots and vegetables to stir fry quickly in a skillet before combining them with noodles. And if there are no vegetables, I grill sunflower seeds or grate a raw beetroot over the noodles. Small, simple dishes.
ESAD (Ecole supérieure d’art et de design)
Drawing is the basis of design. At ESAD, we help students find their own path by putting the practices into perspective and modifying the relationship with raw materials or their functions.
Sidestepping is essential: we have to make them get off the bicycle to be able to see themselves pedalling! By observing, we can analyse the specificities. I always come back to the foresight and power of observation so particular to Leonardo da Vinci.
The students must become aware of a material’s texture, colour, cutting time, be able to taste the raw and the cooked. Everything can be drawn, photographed, tasted. For example, the cooking of a product can offer a particular tale. Cooking quickly does not tell the same story as low-temperature cooking for 48 hours, with last-minute seasoning. We don’t talk about textures like professional chefs or cooking professionals. For us, the question is to know how these textures can help give meaning to the tasting experience. Design is a narrative tool that extols the potential sense of a dish. Food cannot, of course, always be narrative, but when design enters the equation, it provides meaning in the same way as the cooking technique and process.
In all these discoveries, we try to be as little conventional and academic as possible. Experience moulds each student. Gradually, they discover themselves, while sharing with others.
Four Scientific Banquets bringing together researchers and students have taken place in Reims and the surrounding region, as well as, further back, in Paris and Marseille. The themes were “Pillage and Waste”, “War and Food”, “Gastronomy and Diplomacy” and “Communal Lands” (“Terres en Commun”).
These themes offered us an opportunity to examine history and historical events as well as to organise a three-and-a-half-hour group narrative period. Everything is planned, from welcoming guests to the meal itself.
For “Gastronomy and Diplomacy” at the Palais du Tau (in Reims), students had drafted taste pathways to be presented to students from the Lycée Gustave Eiffel with whom we had formed a partnership. In parallel, we had planned each step in the evening’s activities: a cloakroom, access to the Tau banquet hall, the first view of the banquet, organisation of the meal service, lighting, to name just a few. We had a good time as well coordinating certain dishes with the scientific information being given at the time of their service: an astringent dish might reflect the acidity of certain talks.
At the invitation of Vitalie Taittinger, we decided on a different format for the last Scientific Banquet at Château de la Marquetterie (in Pierry): whereas previous banquets could accommodate up to 200 participants, “Communal Lands” purposely brought together only twenty guests (producers, researchers, local officials, farmers and livestock breeders). The idea was to create a real dialogue in order to transmit knowledge and practices revolving around the theme of land and territory issues. The staging and dishes created by students in the ESAD Design & Culinary Master’s degree programme served as props to initiate the discussions.
Culinary design ?
In fact, I don’t particularly like the term “culinary designer”, it is too simplistic. What is most important is the sensibility with regard to living and food. We must remain a keen interest in consumables so as to maintain relevance with various modes of expression and interpretation, because what we will be inventing is in what we put into the foodstuff.