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'Beautiful by Nature'

A installation of hay crate food-warmers and preserved vegetables on pedestals formed the centerpieces of a dinner for food industry guests designed by Katja Gruijters that aimed to highlight food intake and waste.

By Jeanne Tan / 01-04-2010

During the dinner for a food industry congress in Nieuwegein recently, diners had to search for their main course. All tables led to one thing: a stacked installation of 25 closed wooden crates in the centre of the room. 

The prize for this gastronomic hide and seek was found inside each crate: a pot of hot soup or game lying on a bed of hay. The hay-insulating crates are a traditional Dutch way of keeping food warm for prolonged periods of time long before the modern day electric bain-marie food warmer. Designed in collaboration with Amsterdam-based designer Erik Bakker, the crates were part of a dinner designed by food designer Katja Gruijters that showcased the beauty of real food from nature and aimed to highlight sustainability in the food industry.

In the Netherlands, around 4 billion kilos of food is discarded annually and at home, approximately 10-15% of food is thrown away with the figure doubled in restaurants. Highlighting this waste, the food stars of Gruijters' dinner were irregular-shaped vegetables and fruit like apples, strawberries, pears, gherkins and carrots that are deemed too deformed to be sold commercially. Gruijters presents them as natural objects of beauty both on the plate and as a sculpture. Her philosophy takes much inspiration from the cyclical pattern of nature where is no waste and everything is always reused.

"To show their natural beauty, I emphasize the form of ingredients and food. Many times all it takes is a small intervention from a designer!" Gruijters explains. "I wanted to keep the ingredients as natural as possible. For this 'Beautiful by Nature' dinner I have purposely chosen fruits and vegetables with a different form than the ones that can be found in supermarkets. One could certainly say that these fruits and vegetables are considered inferior in most parts of the food industry."

The four-course dinner started with pickled 'deformed' vegetables - conserved food was once the only way of eating foods out of season when surplus harvests were preserved. Next followed hors-d'oeuvres made with 'nose' tomatoes, 'unnoticed' carrots and local crayfish. The main course took inspiration from ingredients found from the forest and dessert was composed of chocolates shaped as portabello mushrooms complete with a magnifying glass to allow examination of the chocolate mushroom lamella.

"My aim was to make people aware of food intake, and especially of our food waste. Based on the natural cycles and to prevent more food waste, over the years I developed a philosophy and concept that is dynamic and continuously reinvented. By creating public dinners I want the audience also to contemplate on social issues such as sustainability and a waste free society."

Photography: Elmar Dam

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