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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Sichuan cuisine, named for the subtropical province of China where it originates from, is characterized by a diversity omálà (a portmanteau meaning “numbing and spicy”), is marked by deep and pungent, peppery notes that you not only taste but fethe U.S. considered Sichuan peppercorns to be contraband; nowadays, you can find the little pink orbs in trendy cocktails that play on its citrus and camphor-like aromas. As thThe Mala Market, an online purveyor that stocks top-grade ingredients directly from Sichuan province. Here, in one fell swoop, you can blog of recipes to kick-start your culinary adventures.
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Several months into the pandemic, the restaurant industry remains among the hardest hit in the U.S., with scant evidenceparticularly those run by BIPOC entrepreneurs, who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus-related losses—their fates lie directly in continuing sales. Eat Okra app, founded by New York couple Anthony and Janique Edwards in 2016, which gives a boost of visibility to Black-owned b
The 20th-century futurist, theorist, inventor, and architect R. Buckminster Fuller was a tireless visionary and radical thinker who wrote dozens of books and proposed theoretical designs advocating for Synergetic Stew: Explorations in Dymaxion Dining, a collection of recipes and anecdotes originally compiled by Fuller’s friends as a surprise gift for his 86th birthday
Tamy Rofe, a sommelier who owns Brooklyn’s farm-to-table-y Latin American restaurant Colonia Verde with her husband, Felipe Donnelly, operates by a matra borrowed from her mother: “La comida compartida sabe mejor.” In English, it means, “Food tastes better when shared.” From the eatery’s lived-in aesthetic to its signature Sunday general store,” selling and even delivering nearly every ingredient on its menu alongside prepared meals and grill boxes—a way for Co
Lexie Smith is an artist and baker, though it’s only relatively recently, after years of working in restaurant kitchens and balanciBread on Earth. Her work often takes on various forms, from performance and installation to photography, writing, and publishing, all
After years in various kitchens, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, Matt Jozwiak left the fine-dining world behind in 2017 to start Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit organization that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to reduce excess food and make nutritious, Ghetto Gastro and Jozwiak’s former boss, chef Daniel Humm—as collaborators in its mission to fight food insecurity and foster a more
Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene