Friday, December 11, 2009

local, intimate and old-fashioned food

In some newer restaurants and take-aways you can see a turn away from lounge. There is a new atmosphere of intimate eating in living room like atmospheres with retro feel, and a return to good old-fashioned food. No more lying down on cushions, no more finger-food. It is also clear from these newly opened restaurant and take-aways in particular that people want better, more tasty and healthy take-aways. we are either too lazy to cook ourselves, or we have too little time and when we then have to buy take-away we want better, more responsible food.

cést ca, neighbourhood restaurant (Bollenhofsestraat 142, Utrecht)
In this recently opened restaurant in Wittevrouwen, Utrecht we eat as if we where in a living room, almost as if we where visiting somebody in their home. Every night there is a fixed meal of 5 dishes. The chef and the servant take turns working either in the kitchen or in the eating-space. The place is rather unpretentious and informal, with a decor that is somewhat old-fashioned, grand-ma's like wallpaper, plates and cutlery. also the dishes are somewhat granny, good old-fashioned food with a modern twist, always made out of ingredients bought the same morning on the market.

Tante Joke (biltstraat, Utrecht)
The name almost says it all, good old-fashioned food like your aunt would cook. This is a great new take-away concept, no more fat, greasy, unhealthy take-away, this is affordable fresh dishes and real good food. Tante Joke actually turns out to be a man.

Gastmaal en de Tafel (Griftstraat, Utrecht)
also a take-away with good old-fashioned food, but with a more French or Mediterranean take on it. The dishes are really delicious, made with craftmanship and great care and more expensive than at Tante Joke.

Stamppot-to-go (nobelstraat, Utrecht)
stamppot is an old-fashioned Dutch dish is typically made of mashed potatoes, veggies (typically carrots) and smoked sausage. Having said that have to add that it exists in many, many variations, and is of course typically something made at home. Stamppot-to-go is offering this homely meal to take-away in an attempt to offer better, more healthy and nutritious take-away meals for busy urban people. The look-and-feel of this concept is fresh, bright and white, with a strong connection to health. but not really having much connection with the idea of the old-fashioned home-made dish,

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Wonderland

A lunch experience full of wonder. Full of juxtaposition, full of the unexpected, full of fantasy.

When the door opens at the Prinsengracht 468, a kind magician welcomes me, she seems to have come straight out of Alice in Wonderland, however she doesn’t cast any spells, she just makes you feel welcome by releasing a tsunami of friendly hostess small-talk. She invites you to step into another world and when you pass the threshold, it almost feels as if you are tripping with your eyes open. Senses start to work overtime as your eyes, ears and nose meet the absurd and surreal acts, people and décor.

The scene has been set in an abandoned office-space, filled with carefully curated mini-exhibitions of unusual scavenged and created objects. A guy completely undisturbed by the event moves his ladder around whilst painting a yellow stripe following a track with its own inexplicable logic, crossing floor, walls and ceiling. This is Esben Ingeslev, his act is inspired by the timekeeping rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. We are spectators to two teenagers that seem locked up in the control room. They are playing games that are being projected on the wall behind them. A peek-a-boo for adults into the imaginary worlds of on-line games.

We enjoy a tantalizing and mind-twisting appetizer in the main hall;
Oyster-cocktail, Oily Anise Ice Cream, tea to chill our mind, and chili as a metaphor to tickle our thoughts about cooking as a tool for personal coaching. All are served in sand-filled wheelbarrows and work like mini business cards for one-person companies.

Then the moderator Neske Beks wondrously dressed like a modern tale princess with an 80’s edge, appears on stage and greets us all welcome. She explains how New Wonderland is a Nu Monument, a monument that is created by us, the participants, our dialogue with the exhibitors and each other. We are encouraged to start our journey through the rooms that have been filled with mini-exhibitions to trigger senses, mind and soul.

We first encounter the Fountain of Wishes; we write our wishes on scraps of paper and throw these in a symbolic paper-fountain. The artist will publish these later and start a revelation log. Then we Play with Your Food, Eating our menu that has been printed on edible paper, this happening is a tongue-in-cheek take on the traditional Dutch Cookie Snapping played at children’s birthday parties and Queens Day. We then enter a space that has been converted into a Cinema room; again we are being played with. We crawl under a cloth to designated watching spots, indicated by printed feet, popping our head through a cloth to watch a slide show “the making of New Wonderland”. The decapitated heads float on top of the symbolical water line. The body is strangely alienated and uninvolved below the water line. 

Then we are confronted with the subtlest wonder of the day; a poem has been put on the carpet with chalk. As we carelessly pass through the room, we start to ruin the beautiful thought. In a small claustrophobic room we find The Bite of a Smell. It looks like the mad scientist laboratory, it’s actually a disintegration laboratory where the smell of… has been mapped out, all the components have been trapped in a small bottle. Even such things as intangible emotions are caught here; i.e. father. To close our journey through the senses we watch stunningly beautiful flower-arrangements created with an unusual yet mundane ingredient; vegetables. It would more rightly deserve the name; veggie sculptures.

We all end-up at the lunch, created by DUS architects, famous for their interventions in public space where they stimulate spontaneous and serendipitous dialogue. They have created an enormous “cooking island” The hosts and servants are seated in holes in the middle of the table, the center of attention and the center of conversation. Bread has been baked in the Amsterdam mugs they created for Ittala, and everything else that is being served obeys the concept of unusual; wine is served by being pumped up from Demijohns, vegetables are served from table-recesses. We close off with Choco-Garlic; raw garlic cloves coated in thick bitter chocolate. What a surprising taste sensation, the chocolate completely neutralizes the garlic.

Whilst enjoying lunch my eyes linger on the art-installations by Kevin Power, he has hijacked the boring and mundane office light fixtures and used them as shelves on which he has installed grotesque compositions, completely in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. New Wonderland is like walking into a curiosity cabinet, there is no end to the curiosity.

During lunch Meike Ziegler, inspirator and curator of New Wonderland, opens a central debate about the event. Together we evaluate what we liked, what we missed and how this concept can further be put into practice. The hospitality and catering industry needs innovation; Facebook is a giant cocktail party, always on, but it makes some people feel even more disconnected from real people and real conversations. Can a café, restaurant or gallery be set-up in such a way that it encourages conversation with strangers? The original intention of the concept is to make this conversation therapeutic for both host and visitor. Can a change of context provoke such a sense of liberty that individuals will open up and reveal their personal aspirations to discover their latent talents, in a dialogue with strangers? These questions remain unanswered today; this first pilot of New Wonderland was intoxicating for the senses, mind and soul. A next trial could maybe focus more on the mind-spa; the social interaction, that could help modern people find balance, harmony and purpose.

I step out. The wonder is over. The touristy shopping crowds soon close in on me, this wonderful afternoon already starts to fade away.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Zeeman = hip

My eyes blinked twice, the yellow was almost too bright to handle. And no this was not a semi-naked David Beckham on the billboard. Closer inspection revealed that the model was a tad less sexy and that this was a Zeeman advertising for a hipster. A hip hipster from Zeeman. How do you do that? I mean how do you take a cheap and uninteresting textile supermarket and turn it into a brand?
Calvin Klein - Armani - Bjorn Borg - Zeeman
Several things goes into the mix;
  1. update and upgrade your product offer. Zeeman had already added a component to their website where you can make your own t-shirt. Well, make is maybe a too big word. There is a very limited option for customization; simple t-shirts, simple texts. But the options the tool give away, ignites the hope that there might be more to come. Then add a “David Beckham” hipster. In yellow, everybody will notice.
  2. Give something away for free. Free is nice, particularly in times of economic crisis. It almost makes you think of Zeeman as a kind friend that is helping you in difficult times. Even if your own particularly times are not that hard, you can still notice a warm wave of comfort rolling over you.
  3. Give people something to talk about. Like a yellow hipster on a billboard, that arouses talk. Everybody is talking about the yellow hipster, that’s free advertising. And when people start talking about something, then a brand starts to mine itself in their brain. They remember.

Now then you have turned perceptions around a bit, from cheap textile supermarket to cult of the trash, and maybe next brand.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cave a manger - natural wine

Winebars of a very different kind. After a decade of lounge I thought I could not tolerate another wine-bar. But Ze'Bar (FR-La Rochelle) is different, it's not only a wine-bar that has an excellent wine-card with lots of biologic wines which are hard to get by. It's a cave a manger, which is a new culinary trend in France. The Cave is usually where you buy wine, a cave a manger is a wine-bar that has extended it's service to also include simple foods. Another such cave a manger is Mon Oncle le Vigneron in Paris (Belleville).
Philippe - Ze'Bar, La Rochelle, France

Ze'Bar's owner Philippe has come over from Paris and brought with him the cave a manger concept. Philippe is a super friendly host, that immediately creates a convivial and warm atmosphere. He knows everything about wine, and when I say everything, I mean everything. Maybe only just a little bit less than the wine critique that was sharing the terasse with us. Together with wines the minuscule kitchen makes and serves simple plates of local charcuterie or cheeses. The food is honest, pure and unpretentious. It's also possible to order a hamburger made of pure minced meat mixed with fresh spices. A new and completely different hamburger experience.

The interior, the bar radiates that same frankness. There are old-fashioned and solid charcuterie cutting-machines like a butcher would have and scribbled chalk boards that call out names and prices of wine in the same way you would find it in the local farmer-market.

People come from far (like myself) to taste the rare and special biologic wines from his card, such as the infamous Petit Jo coming from the la Roche Buissiere. (Vaucluse) Petit Jo is a biologic wine made from biologic agriculture which means no pesticides have been used to kill weed, no pesticides have been used to prevent diseases in the plant and finally in the production no additives have been used. In particular no sulfit. That is what makes biologic wine and Petit Jo so special. The taste is so pure that you only taste grape and soil. Nothing else. The grapes create a rich palette of different deep full fruity tastes like blackberries, and the taste of soil translate into a mineral taste, a certain dryness. There is absolutely no trace of bitterness or acid as you can often experience with wine. The Petit Jo is just a delightful, wonderful wine. As pure as it gets.
The lack of sulfit means that this wine won't grow better as it grows older, you better drink it within the first 2-3 years. Also it should be conserved in a cool environment to prevent it from going bad.

The cave a manger and the bio-wine are both examples that point in the direction of a renewed interest in the country side and local produce. It's suddenly ok, not to say to have a farmer-like wine-bar in Paris and la Rochelle, whilst wine has of course mostly been associated with connoisseurs of high standing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nature, it should be forbidden...

As if it has grown out of nowhere suddenly it is there, a tree, in the middle of the cities concrete, steel and glass. Usually nature prevails over urban landscape by penetrating through concrete. In this case I'm talking about man-made nature. Overnight somebody has created the illustration of a tree by inserting cuttings of plastic-foam tube into a stretched metal fence. It makes me smile. It makes me think. It makes me wonder. Maybe it's not just the tree in itself, it's the fact that somebody has made it. Somebody has come up with this idea and has had the courage to actually create it. Officially it would probably be tagged as vandalism. Which makes it a sort of paradox, urban art is good for us, it triggers our imagination, makes us think, it makes us feel good, maybe it even makes us a bit happier? But it's against the law.

Just last year somebody had created an image of a car made in a similar way but using fallen leaves. Maybe that was a purely spontaneous act, the leaves where lying around, why not just paint with them?
I would plea that illegal urban art makes city life better. Blank walls and fences should be released for urban intervention. Streets should be proclaimed to be galleries. Street artists should be celebrated, we should thank them, they are bringing art back to the people. All the people. Not just the elite that visits galleries and museums.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reshaping attitudes

Shape is literally present in Arnhem. The research for new shapes was everywhere; researching new form and sculpting new materials. The symposium Reshaping attitudes chose substance over matter; reshaping attitudes was feeding the debate about the fashion industry or even the fashion system itself.

The economic crunch has made clear to everybody what was maybe previously only visible to some sparsely spread initiated people; the fashion system is sick, it has suicidal tendencies. The speed of change is so high, that even fashionistas can’t keep up. Fashion insiders have long ago chosen not to try to keep up, they just dress in Black. The fashion system is depleting our planet, every season it produces an overload of new styles to wear for too short and it’s so poorly made, that before you know it, it ends up in a heap for sale on Queensday. So something has got to change. The crisis turns out to be a welcome catalyst for change.

In the Reshaping attitudes symposium, different speakers had been invited to give their opinion about the crisis in the fashion industry (and system) and to launch their ideas about what alternatives the fashion industry (and system) has.

Some like Otto van Busch has been onto it for long. He has challenged the existing system with artistic happenings for long; organizing huge swap parties and repair & remake workshops in galleries and museums. All his initiatives seem to directed at exposing the over-stretched fashion-system, and his initiatives also demonstrate that attractive alternatives are possible.
Beyond Green, Amsterdam, November 12th

Beyond Green, Amsterdam Nov 12th

Anne Chapelle, CEO of a Belgian fashion conglomerate BVBA32 gave us a very personal account of her breakdown after the oct 2008 shows, after which she shut herself up for 2 weeks to rethink the system. She resurrected herself by creating a fashion platform, a brand that will be made up of the curated collections by selected individuals, but not around one star designer.

Monique van Heist’s Hello Fashion is probably the most grown-up and serious attempt at attacking the fashion system in it’s heart. It will not renew every season. It will have a growing collection of items that stay in production for a long time. Also Moniques idea has grown out of dissatisfaction with the current speed of change and the creation of waste.

For Liam Maher it seems to be more accidental that he’s challenging the fashion system. Liam focuses on the well-crafted and well-made jeanswear, Denham. He just likes the idea of creating something enduring, being a craftsman that knows his craft. That of course is in sharp contrast with the throwaway fashion that most of us dress-up in.

The conclusion of the symposium was somewhat disappointing because Anne Chapelle turned out to have little faith in that we will be able to change the fashion industry or system in the near future.

I choose to believe that we can. It’s up to us, us that consume fashion, to make different choices and to stop sponsoring the irresponsible and waste-producing brands. If anything this symposium has made clear that it is possible to act differently, and we just need to stand up and start doing it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shadow man

This odd man waits every morning opposite my train-track. He reads the newspaper and moves back and forth against the blue back-light.

My intuition tells me that this is actually a piece of art. Is it to mock us commuters? To confront us with ourselves? And our boring and predictable lives? A quick google-tour didn't deliver any hits, so maybe one of these days I will go over to check if there is a plaque. Then I can properly quote the artist.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Free the world...? with Free hugs?

I was lucky enough to get to spend one weekend in HK as I was there for work. So as any good HK citizen I set-out for my mega shopping-trip on saturday (not necessarily to buy anything) after a while and for sure if you are alone, something like that can start to feel quite shallow, plain empty. and lonely. So I was greatly surprised when I turned the corner to the Times Square and I encountered the Free hugs campaign in action. Right there. I had never seen the free hugs before.
well as I just explained I was somewhat in need for a hug, and went right up-there to get one!Free Hugs feel good! even though they are given by a stranger you can instantly feel the warmth and kindness beaming at you. I think in the West, some countries more than others, hugs are a pretty normal way of greeting, at least amongst friends and family. In Asia though you see less hugs generally speaking, so that made it even more special to get a hug on Times Square by a HongKong citizen, me being a complete stranger.
Later I got to know that Free Hugs is a non-commercial, non-religious initiatives, started to simply make the world a better place. That feels good.
Free hugs

Free hugs
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