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Let Them Eat Cake

How we eat our food is the ultimate lifestyle choice - devoid of the usual requirements of endurance and resilience, food design is about destruction. Tout, Amsterdam's chicest patisserie, just turned one. Inside, the better the food looks, the lower its chances of survival are.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 16-10-2008

There has always been a fondness between food and design in The Netherlands. Strong advocates like Li Edelkoort, Droog Design and Marcel Wanders have pushed boundaries and manipulated food into just another raw material that can expound and communicate concepts.

Not so, however, in the commercial world of confectionary and cakes, which is still mostly dominated by traditional French shapes, tastes and textures.

That gap explains why one year ago Job van Berkel, head pâtissier at Herrie, one of the Herman den Blijker restaurants, decided to break free and open Tout, a patisserie and confectioner in Amsterdam’s Rivierenbuurt neighbourhood. After just twelve months, the delectable little establishment that puts a premium on design, counts as its clients a host of top-tier restaurants and a swelling list of individual regulars.

Food design is about an attitude - the mindset of the chef and how deep his desire to connect with his audience extends. Food design embraces chemistry, it is very precise, but also indulges in experimentation with shape, silhouette and colour. But most importantly, it contains a cleverness that acknowledges both the physiological and psychological aspects of eating.

“When you think about it, a decision to eat something starts with the eye,” says Van Berkel. “What it looks like matters very much.”

Tout, which means “everything” in French, is designed to resemble a large chocolate bar. Step inside and into a powerful rush of sweet aromas and visual splendour. There are decks of chocolates covered in bronzing powder, exquisite French gateaux and an evolving selection of macaroons. There are rows of small Van Berkel originals like a dome constructed from layered cassis, raspberry and vanilla and covered in Ferrari-red chocolate.

“We designed the space with an open kitchen,” Van Berkel says, “so customers can talk and ask us about anything …. and of course we can make everything!”

Patisserie design, at it's very best, is architecturally sensual. There is something quite titillating about the destructive reality that eating high-design has. Careful layers, hand-crafted corners and the tiniest of details crumble and melt away with each bite. It’s an excitement that Van Berkel understands. He has garnered quite the following for his famous Snickers desert. “I opened the chocolate bar, took out the products and reconstructed it as a desert,” he explains.

For another dinner treat Van Berkel prepared a massive tiered cake and perched it on a table in the middle of a forest. Guests spent time eating and meandering through the forest and towards the cake, which was covered in autumnal leaves and decorations made form marzipan. It was their final destination.

Van Berkel says he looks to French chef Pierre Hermé, the so-called pope of the macaroon, for inspiration. Hermé, more than any other pâtissier in the world, fuses the world of patisserie and design by presenting his inventions in collections that compare to fully choreographed prêt-a-porter catwalk shows complete with scantily clad models.

And surprisingly the Dutch, better renowned for their austere and no-nonsense approach to cuisine, are happily embracing Tout’s more indulgent and delicate approach to cakes. “People are choosing to spend more money on food,” Van Berkel says. “I see that they are starting to appreciate the benefits of buying once a week from me instead opting for three times worse.”

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