Connecting Food and Design

Maggie Coblentz
MID Industrial Design 2018

What can designers offer the field of culinary arts? How does a classically trained chef’s approach to working with food differ from that of an architect, graphic designer, or fashion designer? How can a multi-disciplinary design course embrace emerging approaches to food as both material and experience to offer unique perspectives on the food industry?

Yilan Gao (BFA Illustration 2020), Mango Egg, 2018

These were the questions Biniam Kebede (MID 2018) and I asked in co-teaching RISD Food + Design last Wintersession. Food + Design attracted undergraduate and graduate students from various departments across RISD who shared an interest in the culinary arts. Food and eating design are notable emerging fields. Following the lead of the Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan, which recently launched a master course in Food Design, and the Design Academy Eindhoven, which has a Food/Non Food department, we wanted to capitalize on the design talent at RISD to explore food as a medium and enhance the multi-sensory experience of eating. The studio was sited in Co-Works, RISD’s interdisciplinary research lab, where we could apply digital fabrication techniques such as laser cutting and 3-D printing to food.

Throughout the semester students learned about chefs and designers who are contributing to the global food design movement and worked with local chefs to gain a greater understanding of their creative process. Providence is an amazing culinary hub, and we wanted students to have the opportunity to connect with the community outside of RISD. Our class visited the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University to see how other creatives work in the field of the culinary arts. We also had the privilege of inviting local chefs to our class to offer students feedback and participate in discussions about food and design. Visitors included Chef Richard Allaire from Metacom Kitchen, Chef Cooper-Morgan Bryant, who runs a pop-up dinner series called Astrid, and Avi Mallinger, who manages the culinary incubator Pilotworks Providence. It was inspiring for the chefs as well as our class to be able to learn about food from different perspectives.

Students learned how to make custom food-safe silicone molds of 3-D printed designs, to create intricate chocolates, tessellating deviled eggs, frozen treats, and even baked goods shaped like notable architecture. The Co-Works laser cutter was used to etch codes onto fruit as an eco-friendly alternative to stickers, and to create wooden stamps to imprint messages onto dumpling wrappers and snowflake designs into nori. In each project, students explored the multi-sensory experience of eating by considering the role of taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch.

Aleks Dawson (MFA Graphic Design 2020), Rainbow Chocolates, 2018

Ruby Schechter, a senior in Industrial Design, created an installation that invited participants to reflect on how sound can influence the experience of eating. Yilan Gao, a sophomore in Illustration, experimented with a molecular gastronomy technique called spherification to make mango spheres that looked like and had the same texture as an egg. Amos Kang, a freshman in Experimental and Foundation Studies, explored food as an art form by creating “tableware” made out of fish skin and garbage as a comment on the negative effect of ocean pollution in our ecosystem.  

Ruby Schechter (BFA Industrial Design 2018), Crostini Playlist, 2018

In the end, we discovered that designers do have a unique perspective to add to the field of culinary arts—demonstrated in both their conceptual and critical food-based explorations.