Process, materiality, and a sense of playfulness often figure into the work of designers Chen Chen and Kai Williams. As does a love of food: When not making furniture or products, the Brooklyn-based duo are known to stage intricate food installations involving custom machinery, from an industrial Cheeto machine to a dry-ice cocktail fountain, and even a “satanic hot dog spit.” Here, they tell us how designing food and objects are more similar than we think.
When did you guys start toying with food? Does inspiration strike when you’re hungry and in the studio?
Chen: With most of our practice, we try to incorporate a sort of nonserious vibe to things. Even then, there are constraints of making stuff for the luxury design market—there’s a level of seriousness that has to be incorporated into it. Making food is definitely not our core business, and part of the fun and appeal of it is that it’s so impermanent.
Williams: It’s a wonderful challenge to see what you can make out of what you have. We’re always trying to experiment with materials, and what’s wonderful about these food projects is the immediacy. It makes everything more approachable, and I think it really frees people to look at it in a different way. A couple of years ago, we also used to produce these planters that were cast-cement in the shape of fruits. And the process for that is very much like making food: you’re mixing a dry mix, trying to achieve a specific consistency.
What’s interesting is that you’re using industrial design tools to sort of poke fun at the industrial food complex—but in this performative and ad hoc way, tinkering with machines.
Chen: Yeah. There’s also this interplay between industrial design and food—like, for example, I think band saws, which are a ubiquitous woodworking tool, were originally invented for slaughterhouses. So, for us, the approach is still very process-based for the food projects. Our Cheeto machine works in the same way as an injection molder: you’re essentially putting pellets (in this case, cornmeal) into a hopper. It gets compressed and heated up, and then comes out of an extruder. A lot of these things really come from an interest in how that product is made. There are always these parallels between the production of hard goods, and these food-production methods. It’s also just fun to hack to equipment.
Williams: A cool thing that we learned in school was that the earliest industrial designers that were thought of as such worked in the food industry because they were designing equipment that made it safer and just better to produce.
Chen: That’s basically what [our Cold Cuts coasters] were inspired by—we were at the deli counter, like, watching them slice things. And originally our concept for that design was that we’d have these logs of material and then, at the point of purchase, we could slice them for people. Although, ultimately, that part didn’t pan out, because it was so messy. [Laughs]
There’s also a performative aspect to your work. I recall seeing a video of you both making one very, very long Cheeto that was the length of an entire loft.
Chen: I once saw somebody doing this in China, just on the side of the road. These guys had a machine, and were making Cheetos and selling bags of them to people on the street. It was something that inspired so much joy—but it’s also just how Cheetos are made. A super-long Cheeto is just what it is, if you don’t cut it up. For a lot of the things we do, we’re just taking very commonplace things and showing [them] to people in a way that allows them to see it for what it is, and the real miracle that these things are.
Williams: What we actually wanted to do with the long Cheeto was have it go out the window, down to street level, and into someone’s mouth. [Laughs] But it was raining that day, so it got a little soggy.
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The ongoing Covid-19 closures have brought the unimaginable to so many local and small businesses across the country andFamily Meal, a site and Instagram account of recipe cards featuring dishes from their favorite local restaurants. All are available for download, with suggested bagna cauda from Popina, challah from The Lighthouse, and lou rou fan from Win Son.
Between homeschooling, working from home, and/or cooking at home more than ever, many of us are spending our days stayinan automated, open-source system called FarmBot that’s been slowly cultivating a fan base of users online. Controlled using an app, and assembled from a kit of parts, t
Daytime drinking is on the up—hey, it’s 5 p.m. somewhere (not that we can keep track of time these days, though the #HandMarkingTime Stories on our @slowdown.tv Instagram at least help us remember which day of the month it is). But if you prefer not to risk getting a hangover, or weakeningDram Apothecary makes a version of the increasingly popular drink in a range of flavors, such as cardamom and black tea, using CBD extrWild Mountain Sage) and switchels, as well as a set of CBD tinctures that you can either drop directly on your tongue, or add to any drink
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has put a sudden and massive halt on the restaurant industry: Bars, small businesses, mega-c“morbidly high business death rate.” (There’s an episode of our At a Distance podcast on this very subject with Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier coming out soon.) As wholesale restaurant suppliers now find their client bases on
As people everywhere settle into new home-cooking routines, finding resourceful ways to make their pantry goods stretch victory garden. Luckily for apartment dwellers without a backyard or access to much green space (more than half the world, basically), all you need is a corner of a countertop to grow some fresh herbs indoors. Better still, and for the botanEdn. The company makes wifi-controlled kits that come with a built-in LED grow light; simple seed pods for no-fuss, soillesSmall Garden order placed—a welcome reminder, in these uncertain times, that your efforts to stay indoors can make a difference for
Self-quarantine and social distancing in the age of the coronavirus are not to be taken lightly, and if, like us, you’refor your own safety and for the safety of others—you may be asking yourself what to stock your pantries with. Add to cart: DADA Daily, a line of tasty and healthy snacks that are neither heavy-handedly survivalist nor overprocessed and, not to mention, so don’t be that bulk-buying, toilet paper-stockpiling jerk.
As the daughter of Slow Food pioneer and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, Fanny Singer has had her share of Proustian Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories (Alfred A. Knopf), offers a warm and sensorial portrait of her mother, and of an upbringing that often revolved around
Dimes, the all-day café, bar, and market founded by Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner in downtown Manhattan, has always doneDimes Times: Emotional Eating (Karma Books)—which she says is the first in a series of more publications to come.
Rich Shih, founder of the blog Our Cook Quest and co-author of the forthcoming book Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation, is a self-taught cook and fermentation expert who makes everything from takuan pickles to fish sauce from scratch, twekoji, the source of umami in fermented ingredients like miso, soy sauce, mirin, and more.
South Korean cinema has been on everyone’s lips this week, in the afterglow of director Bong Joon-ho’s triumphant OscarsParasite, the grand finale to a months-long award spree that began with a Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival last year. making history in more ways than one. By his second acceptance speech, Bong, whose reactions were being duly memed, was ready to hit the bar. His exact words: “I’m ready to drink now, until the morning.” A total mood.