Just when you thought design had crept into every corner of our lives, Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang gives us reason to eat it up too!

Dig in for a dose of daring design at Proef, Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang's experimental kitchen, where sustenance stirs the senses, from concept to calorie.

The maxim "you are what you eat" couldn't be a more tempting tagline for the culinary creations of Dutch food designer Marije Vogelzang. Nominated for the prestigious Rotterdam Design Prize this year for her visionary edible designs, she is the tastiest jewel in the country's ever-expanding designer crown, and the pioneer of an exciting new creative hybrid.

Raised in a small town in eastern Holland, Vogelzang developed a taste for delightfully obscure ingredients and the riveting stories behind them—such as how "forgotten" foods were relegated to their inferior standing and which wild weeds are more covetable than caviar—before stirring up her esoteric pot of inspiration by moving to Amsterdam to study industrial design at the country's renowned Design Academy Eindhoven.

As her academic friends toiled away with traditional stuff like wood, ceramics or metal, Vogelzang fired up the oven and cooked up something deliciously unique instead: designs that were not only aesthetically intriguing and conceptually challenging, but edible, too! "It's design that someone puts in their mouth and absorbs into their body. It's all very intimate," says Vogelzang, who since graduating in 2000 has launched Proef, a design studio/restaurant with locations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where she whips up mouth-watering "food concepts" for avant-garde designer clients such as Li Edelkoort, Hella Jongerius, Ilse Crawford, and the Droog Design collective. But you don't have to have a contract with Vitra to test her zany creations. On the weekends, Proef welcomes visitors for experimental handmade brunches, as well. So raise a fork to food that's smart, tasty and fun!

What is your definition of luxury?
It's something special that doesn't have to be expensive, something that's hard to get.

If luxury were a place, where would it be?
My bed without an alarm clock and without my daughter.

If luxury were a person, who would it be?
My boyfriend.

If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Lying in a treehouse after a hard day's work with a nice summer breeze and lots of butterflies flying around.

If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A very tiny box that if you blow on it would always release something special that you don't expect and that makes you feel happy.

How did you get involved in food design? Were you an avid cook as a child?
I don't have cooking education. I am actually educated to be an industrial designer. When I was studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven, I discovered that food was a material just like wood, plastic, glass or ceramics. I found it interesting, because it has an appearance, and you can shape it, but you can also put it into your body and it will do something to you. It's very personal to eat food and to feed other people; it's a very intimate experience, one that is based very much on trust.

I know that you have worked with Li Edelkoort, who was a professor at Eindhoven while you were a student. Did she inspire you toward food design?
She was my art teacher. But no, she wasn't talking about food as a design material when I started. Actually, it was something completely undiscovered when I began. For me, I became interested in using food because I thought it was an easy choice. I was bit afraid of going to the workshop to make metal things; it was easier to use my stove. I wasn't really aware that it would have a big impact or that I was being a pioneer.

When did you realize food's communication potential on a design level?
It wasn't until I finished my studies and began getting food assignments that I realized its power of communication. If you put words on something, people read what's written before eating it. That's why I always use lots of text in my work, like with my spoken cupcakes and candies. If you want to tell someone a story, then the story needs to be tasty and pleasurable. If you shout, nobody will listen, but if you tell your story with pleasurable tastes, then people will remember. Taste and smell are really closely linked in the brain and are attached to memories. Sometime people reconnect with memories when they're eating my food—in a subconscious way. I like to play with that power. One of my events was a WWII dinner for a museum holding an exhibition about the war. I found original recipes from the Resistance museum and served them as if they were precious snacks, when it fact they were humble things like sugar beets.

Are you inspired by the history of food?
Yes, because there are so many beautiful stories about food. Food has always been in history, because people have always had to eat. Food has provoked wars, helped make peace and plays a central role in every religious faith. It is a big area to work with. I'm not a history buff, but when it comes to food, the stories become so personal that I can't help but be inspired.

What makes food design different from traditional cuisine?
What I'm really doing is creating "eating design." I design everything that's related to the verb "to eat" while doing little to the food itself. It's very different from Molecular Cuisine, which is about food enhancement through experimentation and alteration. In my work, I think it's interesting and important that people still recognize the food.

So it's the act of eating that's called into question each time?
It depends on the project. It could be about the shape of the food, who you are sharing your table with, how you design the space. Or it could be about the cutlery and glassware and how they change your body language and posture when you eat. The food, in many ways, is a complement to the thought behind it.

As a designer who makes beautiful, thought-provoking sustenance, your work reinforces the maxim "you are what you eat." How has that expression been a source of inspiration for you?
I think I have been trying to make people aware that every type of food you put into your body consists of vitamins, minerals, etc., and everything has an influence on what you are. I don't hope to preach to people about how to live, because I don't have the answers, I'm not a dietician; but I do want to give people pleasure in food and eating so that they can be aware of things and be inspired by what I do.

If you could be any food, what would you be?
Maybe some kind of weed that grows fast in your garden and you think, "Oh no, it can't be stopped." Lots of wild herbs and weeds like stinging nettles are edible, and I think that that's really intriguing.

Which ingredients mean the most to you and why?
I use a lot of regional Dutch products, because I feel that the Dutch are not proud of their food culture. They think everything from France or Italy is better. There are a lot of good reasons to use regional products: so many farmers in Holland make beautiful products, and of course there is the question of sustainability. My cooks go to farms to pick up interesting regional products, and we work closely with an organization called De Groene Hoed, or the Green Hat, which distributes regional products from around Amsterdam.

When creating a food design, do you explore the culinary side or the design side first?
I always start with the story and ask myself: Why are we doing this? What is it about? Also, practical things, like: Is it a big banquet for 1,000 or a small dinner for 10? Then I do research to see how I can adjust the story to the food, and then I take a shower. I come up with all of my ideas in the shower. That's an important part of the process. And then I talk to the cooks and we do some experiments.

How has your role in the kitchen evolved since you began?
When I began, I did everything. It was just me, so I did the cooking, bookkeeping, cleaning, dishes, etc. Now I don't cook anymore, which is really important because I'm not a cook, I'm a designer. The chef is really the craftsman. If I were the cook, then it would limit my creativity as a designer.

Your Colorfood presentation in New York investigated the love-hate relationship that overweight children have with food. What kind of research did you have to do to ensure that the event was appetizing and aesthetic as well as therapeutic?
Actually, the idea was very simple. I thought to myself, they're just not happy. They're not happy eating fat foods, and they haven't learned how to appreciate other things. I decided to create an event that encouraged them to have fun eating, because food can do so many more wonderful things than just give you calories. I didn't want to put the emphasis on fat and non-fat issues, and so I chose to work with the color philosophy that Leonardo Da Vinci once used. It's not very scientific, but the philosophy explores how color can affect one's life. For example, red gives you energy; blue makes you sleepy; green makes you rich, etc. Even though it's an unfounded theory, it's a nice way to encourage children to perceive food in a different way, because it's fun and stimulating. All of the snacks were healthy, but I didn't put the emphasis on that. I think it's a really nice way of working, because you can address serious eating issues in ways that inspire new perceptions of eating.

What are the five most important cookbooks in your culinary library? Why?
I am really intrigued by Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking", a fascinating book that investigates food from a scientific point of view. I have a really old book that's a cookbook from the Dutch Housekeeping School that used to belong to my grandmother, which is quite funny and dated. Though I haven't read the whole thing, I quite like the book "Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art" by Carolin C. Young. It's about the some of the biggest feasts and most luscious banquets in history and is quite interesting. Another book that I find really intriguing is "In The Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Foods" by Stuart Lee Alan. It's all about forbidden foods throughout history and is a fascinating and very well-researched book.

What will you be presenting at the competition for the Rotterdam Design Prize this year?
Well, I've actually been nominated for my whole body of work. It's really hard to do a presentation for an exhibition, however, because my food always gets eaten, and it's ridiculous to present the concept without the food. So in addition to a patchwork presentation of all of my previous work, my intern made a body mold out of bread called the Bread Man, onto which I've pinned needles with tags that have words associated with food. It presents my philosophy about what a designer can do with food, because I think I've been nominated because I'm one of the first to really combine the two in a way that's not just aesthetic or tasty but conceptual from a social and philosophical point of view.

What are you working on now?
In addition to working on a whole bunch of projects, such as a food and music event for a museum, the fashion biennial in Haarlem, a BMW event in London, and a Sustainability Dinner that Stuart Walker is organizing, I am also working on two books. One is about food ideas and design. It's a rather light book, with lots of words and sketches to inspire people, so that they can reproduce things at home. The other is about my work and the projects I've done and the concepts behind them.

Related Articles

Dessert Delirium
Delectable design
Centuries of Serving Style

More Info