The relationship between food and art has famously been about restaurants using their venues as art galleries as well, a tradition that goes back to the early twentieth century when artists, mostly in France, would pay for their meals with artworks. In Berlin, this tradition was upheld right into the 1980s by Martin Kippenberger, whose works still adorn the walls of West Berlin’s Paris Bar (among other venues). But the city offers many more intriguing forays into cuisine’s creative potential. As well as site-specific pop-up restaurants such as Pret A Diner, which has been held twice in the German capital, permanent gallery-and-gastronomy locations such as the Zagreus Projekt host food-and art-related exhibitions and events, while the annual Food Art Week Art – organised by interdisciplinary art space Entretempo Kitchen Gallery – offers a weeklong programme of exhibitions, dining experiences, performances and workshops via dozens of local galleries, cafés and alternative spaces.
Walk past the Fragrances Bar at Berlin’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it looks, from the outside at least, like any other five-star drinking establishment. But step inside and you’ll be greeted by curated art installations that showcase 15 of the bar’s signature drinks, each of its ingredients laid-out individually. Next to the boutique spirits and fresh herbs and fruits are hand-picked perfumes by the likes of Giorgio Armani, Bulgari, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Annick Goutal and Guerlain, because this is the first bar in the world where you can blend cocktails with boutique aromas. Uniquely, guests at Fragrances can choose their drink via a combination of feel, look and smell. The chosen ingredients are then mixed into unique concoctions – with names such as Signorina by Salvatore Ferragamo with Jasmine, and Zacapa spiked Oud Royal by Armani – by mixologist Arnd Heissen, who also makes fantastic non-alcoholic options too, such as Penhaligon's Orange Blossom. Not only does the resultant cocktail smell divine but it’s great to look at, too, thanks to the bar’s idiosyncratic range of unique drinking vessels, which are variously shaped like birdhouses, bamboo sticks and wooden shrines.
As the name suggests, the Entretempo Kitchen Gallery is a combination of gallery and kitchen, run by Tainá Guedes, a Brazilian artist, chef and author. Located in the gentrified district of Prenzlauer Berg, the project draws on the concept of Mottainai – a Japanese Buddhist term for regretting what is wasted – in order to highlight the political and social impact of food. Guedes’s ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ ethic applies to everything the Kitchen Gallery does, from supporting sustainable food culture – only organic and regional vegetables are ever used – to hosting workshops that ask thought-provoking questions such as, “how do we need to live to be able to eat in the future?” As well as hosting events such as sightless dinners (involving five-course menus and a bunch of blindfolded strangers), Guedes also arranges educational trips to local farms for children, and has published a book called Cooking With Bread, which is full of recipes for stale bread to help combat our culture of waste. In between, she has managed to find time to design her own lingerie range and initiate the annual Food Art Week, which runs in Berlin as well as Zürich, Paris and Los Angeles.
The idea of Berlin’s Contemporary Food Lab is to bring together a community of disparate individuals hailing from a range of artistic, culinary and academic disciplines – artists, scientists, farmers – to collaborate and create “connections and consciousness” through the topic of food. The open-minded, multi-faceted project is managed by Ludwig Cramer-Klett, owner of leading ‘locavore’ restaurant Katz Orange, and is comprised of a broad of range of dinners, supper clubs and exhibitions as well as lectures, readings and conferences. One previous project was a combination pop-up garden and open-air conference called Little Wood, created in collaboration with an architectural company (Graft Architekten), the Humboldt University and Swiss artist and architect Kerim Seiler. Cramer-Klett has also done supper clubs in collaboration with local food designers Wild & Root, and appearances at art events such as ABC (Art Berlin Contemporary) and the Berlin Food Art Week. “The mission is not so straight cut that we could put it down in one sentence,” he says. “At the end of the day it’s a forum that looks at the relationship between culture and nature, so we put food in the name of the organisation as it’s at the centre of our methodology.”
Norwegian ‘smell expert’ Sissel Tolaas founded her Re_Search Lab back in 2004. Situated in her spacious apartment in an upscale neighbourhood in West Berlin, the lab serves as a research space for her wide-ranging work with scents of all kinds. At its heart is an archive that features almost 7,000 odours from all over the world – a dizzyingly diverse collection that includes everything from toys to bananas. Tolaas uses this archive to create new and innovative approaches to the social role of smell, aiming, in her own words, to “help the world reclaim its olfactory systems”. As well as working for large corporations including Adidas and Comme des Garçons, she has also exhibited conceptual work in galleries and museums such as Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and collaborates with medical establishments and institutions including the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Her research has also led her to work with food, such as the project where she took samples from the footwear of famous people (including David Beckham’s sneakers) and made edible cheese from it; the results were served unannounced to cheese specialists who complimented the flavour and aroma.