Cutting Edge Designers: How Israelis Are Revolutionizing the Kitchen

A new wave of industrial design students is creating new products that provide food for thought.

When Sarit Shteif, a recent graduate of the department of industrial design at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, was working on her final project, she took a look at her classmates’ apartments. Most of them were 20-somethings living in rented flats; they were not at home much and often ate out. She focused on their kitchens and noticed that the dishes in daily use were not even returned to the cupboards, but stayed most of the time on the drying racks, to be used again. Her obvious conclusion: to design a kitchen in which the dishes dry and are stored in the same place. Where everything is accessible and exposed, and, as a result, storage becomes unnecessary.

Shteif got the inspiration for the final design of the “urban kitchen” from the workshops of such craftsmen as carpenters, shoemakers and artists. The dishes moved to center stage and became an integral part of an open, airy design that makes it possible to work, cook and entertain simultaneously. Her choice of white emphasizes the color and substance of the dishes, as well as the colorful nature of the food.

Shteif’s choice of dealing with kitchen space is no coincidence, and she joins many graduates of industrial design departments who have, in the past two to three years, chosen to devote their final projects to various aspects of the world of food.

Ofer Zick, a senior lecturer in the industrial design department at the Holon Institute of Technology ‏(and formerly the department head‏) is not surprised. He sees the students’ preoccupation with food as a reflection of what is happening in Israeli society.

“In recent years there has been a kind of trend of projects dealing with food. It can definitely be described as a hot topic,” he says. “All in all, designers are influenced by what is happening around them, and in recent years we have been exposed to a considerable amount of preoccupation with food in our society. On television, too, it is a subject of discussion on quite a number of programs. There are TV channels devoted to food. It’s not only homemade food, and it doesn’t end with going to restaurants. They’re talking about it everywhere.”

One of the popular places where they’re talking about it is the successful reality show “Master Chef.” Says Zick: “If we take ‘Master Chef’ as an example, we can see there’s a strong emphasis not only on the quality of the dish but also on the way it’s served. The aesthetic aspect is no less important than the taste; it’s something that interests quite a number of chefs. In restaurants, it is reflected in special dishes for certain foods – for example, the glasses for chocolate milk in the Max Brenner stores.”

Social design

Like Zick, Dina Shahar, head of the department of inclusive industrial design at Hadassah College in Jerusalem, believes that students’ involvement with food is related to society’s interest in the field. She also connects additional social aspects to the trend: “In the past decade there has been awareness of the worldwide phenomenon of obesity and the implications of an unhealthy diet. These subjects are on the media’s agenda, and are being dealt with in legislation and education. British chef Jamie Oliver became a social activist when he enlisted in the fight against the unhealthy food served in schools, and against poor eating habits in general. Naturally the subject came up on the agenda of designers as well. At the same time, within the environmental, demographic and social changes, designers must relate to urgent issues and take a stand.

“Martí Guixé may have been the first designer to pay attention to food design. But I think the Dutch designer Marije Vogelzang was the first to really express the power of designers to operate in this territory, in a manner diametrically opposed to the traditional attitude of chefs and of everyone who comes from the field of cooking and restaurants. She also started it with her final school project − about the design of the post-funeral meal. Today she calls herself an ‘eating designer,’ a description that includes the attitude to the overall experience and to cultural, social and historical issues.”

A similar attitude can be found in the work of Neora Zigler, a graduate of Hadassah College, who examined the way blind people cook in a search for ways to strengthen aspects of the process as touch and smell. Zigler designed cooking vessels that encourage experiential-sensual cooking and meet the practical needs of the blind and visually impaired. Observing cooks with visual impairments led her both to emphasize reinforcing the sensual experience ‏(smell, taste and touch‏) for sighted people, and creating safer cooking equipment so that basic cooking activities would be easier for the blind.

Michal Unterberg, who finished her studies at Hadassah College this year, began her final project because of her grandmother, who was suffering from dementia. The research stage led Unterberg to insights about the visual and cognitive perception of those who suffer from the illness: confusion between a three-dimensional reality and two-dimensional representations ‏(for example, a carpet is likely to be interpreted as a large hole in the floor‏), a blurring of boundaries between objects, an inability to connect form and function, and more. These insights led to a series of eating implements that enable people with dementia to eat independently, when ordinary implements are no longer suitable. The devices are visually and ergonomically suited to the users, create a new language of form, and are suitable for everyone, especially children.

In her project, Tamar Ish Cassit, a graduate of the Holon Institute, worked on rehabilitation through cooking. She created cooking implements for those with limited manual dexterity, which subtly combine rehabilitation with the activity of cooking. Among other things, she created a peeler and a knife, along with a splint made by plastic injection, which bend with the heat produced by the hand. They are used in hand rehabilitation clinics. In addition to individual and ergonomic compatibility, there is an upper handle that fixes the knife and the peeler on the hand to prevent them from falling (for those with a weak grip). The utensils are designed for people with poor manual functioning, who are supposed to do hand rehabilitation exercises and are not always interested in doing so.

For that purpose, a number of rehab exercises have been integrated invisibly into the natural cooking movements. The peeler concentrates on strengthening the thumb through prolonged pressure; the knife on moving the arm and the elbow, and focusing strength while cutting. The splint straightens the hand and brings it to a position that enables delicate cooking activities. Another utensil, a presser for spices, concentrates on strengthening the muscles and fingers of the hand by pressing against resistance.

Gilad Mashiah, also from the Holon Institute, designed a series of seven glasses for alcoholic drinks and a coffee cup for hand amputees, adapted for use with a hook prosthesis. The project started out as a result of the problems experienced by double hand amputees in holding cups properly, aesthetically and safely. The cups provide a different drinking experience, both for amputees and the general public. In his project, Mashiah tried to prove that an accessible product can compete with other products on the market and be relevant and desirable without undermining its basic functions, and may even offer a better experience.

Restoring meaning to the process

While the projects discussed above were designed for groups of people with specific problems, two final projects created in the department of industrial design at the Bezalel School of Art and Design in Jerusalem grew out of broader cultural perspectives. Ori Sonnenschein began looking for a cheap, local, perishable material for use in manufacturing that would accord with a worldview supporting sustainability. He ended up with citrus peels, used industrially only as animal feed. Sonnenschein discovered that the material is lightweight, stiff, durable and nontoxic. In addition, it has broad potential for use in products such as disposable dishes, lampshades, planters and even as the coating of electronic products. The result was Mitkalfim, a set of dishes with a unique aesthetic that includes a bottle, plate, pitcher, cup, bowl, teaspoon and a salt shaker, all usable and completely biodegradable.

Omer Ackerman, in his final project “Nosaf Betargum” ‏(Gained in Translation‏), “tried to restore meaning to the formation of the objects around us. In a process where each object affects an object, a ready-made kiddush cup becomes the prototype for other Shabbat paraphernalia. The shape, decorations and function are affected directly by the manufacturing processes of these traditional objects.

“In this era of industrialization and globalization, more and more objects without a past and cultural context are being produced,” he says. “Today, Chinese factories, rather than local workshops, are the source of most objects in our homes. It seems there is no trace of the engraver’s knife or the potter’s fingerprint. In methods of serial production, we sand every scratch and remove every burr so as to leave no evidence of the production process.”

Rachel Boxnboim created a link between a soft material ‏(fabric‏) and a hard substance ‏(ceramic‏) that maintains and preserves the qualities of the fabric. The ceramics acquire the texture of the fabric and the appearance of stitches, looking like a kind of stiffened fabric. The implements are useful and contain a dimension of surprise. The work included experimenting with various cuts and fabrics, with the form of the object determined by the cut but strongly influenced by the fabric, and changes from one utensil to the next.

The final project of Tomer Botner, from the department of industrial design at Shenkar, was created out of a desire to work, create and make a living in the community where he lives. It presents a process of cooperative local production, in which many people with various skills are involved. Botner created knives “produced in southwest Tel Aviv,” including a pair of kitchen knives, a chef’s knife and a paring knife. The technologies, professionals, providers of the raw materials, craftsmen and designer were partners in the process of creating the knives. All of them live and work in Florentin and adjacent Tel Aviv neighborhoods. The choices of design and materials were meant to reflect the hybrid nature of Florentin and the spirit of the place. At the same time, the structure and assembly of the knives enable adaptation “according to size” for every user.

Leigh Nadler, a graduate of Hadassah, was inspired by the philosophy of Maimonides. She designed eating utensils made of blown glass, which emphasize the proper quantities of food and drink as recommended in the writings of Maimonides − both physical and spiritual qualities. The plates and cups are sized to contain the desirable amounts of food defined by the great philosopher. For example, the cup can be placed on the table only when it is empty, in order to prevent drinking while eating.

Like Dina Shahar of Hadassah, Yoav Ziv, a senior lecturer in the department of industrial design at Shenkar and coordinator of the final projects, also mentions Martí Guixé and his book “Food Designing,” which was published two years ago. Ziv also refers to the book “Food Design XL,” by Sonja Stummerer, which tries to define “industrial food design” as a new field in design, because it is not a matter of styling or decoration alone, but deals with combining the tactile and the sensual with functional and cultural values, which together create the meaning of food design.

“Over the years, throughout the course of study, there were various projects in the department dealing with industrial food design, such as chocolate or pastries and snacks, while confronting cultural issues and familiar design processes,” Ziv says. For example, the final project of Paz Brouk, “Hilutzim,” was about chocolate, but tried to include various aspects of the field.

Her final project was based on the assumption that people eat desserts when they are no longer hungry, but feel like having something sweet – and that’s the ideal time to “play around,” says Brouk. Desserts are a means of examining behavior because of the desire and the consensus surrounding them. Aside from the pleasure of eating the dessert itself, people feel a need to get as much as possible out of it, and to play around with the dish on which it is placed − scraping, licking, digging. The result: a series of experiential dessert dishes where consumption requires various methods of extrication. Brouk’s designs take into account temptation and encourage repetitive, prolonged and obsessive behavior that reflects human needs and urges.

“Aphrodisiac,” the final project of Ido Garini at the Holon Institute, created a sensual eating experience by examining the connection between food and eroticism, and its translation into original and experiential dishes. The project included five courses: Each course was accompanied by an experience for couples, intended to suit the idea and the feeling it conveys. The dishes ranged from a soup bowl for two, for mutual feeding, to a burning skewer with a portion of flaming mushroom carpaccio.

“The world of food is a sensual world, since eating is one of the only activities in which we use all our senses simultaneously,” says Garini. “Such sensuality can also be found in the world of sex and eroticism. While we often encounter sexy food and eating activities that parallel sexual activities, you can’t find dishes that clearly serve that purpose and are designed to intensify the erotic aspect of eating.”

Escapist and futuristic

Is such preoccupation with food an escape? Is it an attempt by students to deal with something sexy and attractive at the expense of research and study of more “important” topics? “The very choice of a subject like industrial food design for a final bachelor’s degree project is liable to be interpreted as an escape to a decadent involvement in convenient realms or a preoccupation with decoration, instead of confronting an existential issue or designing a mainstream product,” says Ziv. “At the same time, from the insights arising from the history of the field and through dialogues with the students about their work, we discover additional layers and meanings, which provide a place and additional validity for projects in this area.

“Preoccupation with food, and mainly with sweets and desserts, signals an escapist but legitimate need to deal with luxuries, pleasure and self-compensation, which fulfill an important role on the Israeli scene,” he adds. “Another, suppressed, aspect that was discovered was an obsessive interest in food among students from families of Holocaust survivors. The connection between food, smell and memory sent other students to childhood realms from which they drew material for expressing themselves in the context of their individual projects. In any case, as long as there is an attempt to implement and present an idea by means of fine design, industrial food design is accepted in the department as being as legitimate as any other subject.”

And what about the future? Shahar tells of a home 3D printer for printing food, a project that was born in the laboratories of Philips Research about three years ago. “Both the printed foods and the manner of serving had an entirely new look,” she says. She also tells of a sensor that you swallow, which enables a precise matching of the nutritional components to the specific user.

“I think this project includes many issues that will concern the field of design in the near future: the fascinating meeting point between the human body, technology, science and design − the 3D printer that will be accessible in every home. What it will be used for and what its implications are for the field of design; individual adaptation of various goods and services, including the nutritional values we consume; and the ongoing tension between the local and the global − among other things, increasing awareness about the consumption of local food, compared to the corporations that are increasingly adapting themselves to the global market. When it comes to food, I think we will be seeing fewer projects of serving and cooking utensils, and more designing of possible scenarios.”