• Michal Ben-ari Manor

Katinka Versendaal - A Gastronomic Futurologist

The food designer / gastronomic futurologist behind food design studio The Eatelier

Who are you?

My name is Katinka Versendaal and I am the food designer / gastronomic futurologist behind food design studio The Eatelier. I am fascinated by big world issues like climate change, health problems and food security issues and what they mean for the way we eat, now and in the future. I wonder how we as humanity have come to this point and therefore I research the historical, ecological and social value perceptions around humans, nature and food and the relationships between humans and non-humans.

My subject of research, and my medium for expressing these ideas, is food and its future. I therefore define myself as a "gastronomic futurologist”. Food is one of the fundamental, everyday human needs. As such, it largely defines the way we live, build our physical or social space, communicate and create culture, and our relationship with the natural world. Our current relationship with food is problematic and I want to act as a catalyst for a collective redefinition of this relationship.

What is your academic and professional background?

Holding a MA in Food Design & Innovation from Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan, Italy, and a BA in Product Design from Design Academy Eindhoven, I founded food design studio The Eatelier in 2017. Recently, I have had the honor to be a finalist for the Young Designer award by the Dutch Design Awards in 2020.

Tell me about The Eatelier?

My studio researches the food system and the way we eat in relation to current societal issues and future scenarios. By combining my methods of speculative gastronomy and food design, my findings lead to experimental food concepts that intervene in current developments and issues related to food production and consumption, such as the effects of climate change, public health issues and the challenges related to food security. Furthermore, each of those experiments conveys a vision of what human alimentary habits and diets might look like in the future and have the aspiration to bridge the existing gap between the gastronomic field, academia, food producers and the food industry.

What are the vision and goals of the Eatelier?

The studio always operates on the ambition to contribute to a sustainable, healthy and delicious future. Scientific research has shown that there is a direct link between our diet, public health, food production, climate and biodiversity. In this, food is the connecting factor between so-called macro and micro levels; between the local and planetary scales, between individual choices and global behavior, and between human health and planetary well-being. Food is therefore the crucial topic and medium through which we can initiate a redefinition of our current dualistic value system and through which concrete interventions can be made.

Design can act as a vehicle for human aspirations and as such, I believe that food design and speculative gastronomy is uniquely positioned to initiate social change around these issues. I want to form a critical design that offers an alternative to how things are, and I want to inspire a new generation of food professionals, as well as policymakers and creative thinkers, to participate in the discussion and co-creation of a future in which we would all actually like to live.

What kind of projects have you done within the Eatelier?

In my design process, I examine the historical context, events and value definitions that have led to our current situation and diet. I analyze the status quo and define and create alternative visions for the future. In collaboration with academics, scientists, chefs and hospitality professionals, I develop dishes and food products that respond to these newly developed theories and resulting future aspirations. I call this "Speculative Gastronomy.”

Working with food leads me to connect my work to the gastronomic world. This is the place where innovative or provocative experiments with food can take place, and the field that the world looks to for inspiration and concrete examples about what to eat next. Therefore, gastronomy and taste research can play a fundamental role in promoting sustainable practices, and in communicating public health and environmental issues.

Our collaborations lead a variety of output; to gastronomic pop-up events or innovative food products, from 18-course dinners around eating for happiness, to remedy cocktail bars to cheese made from Dutch beans.

After the event, the research, the concept and the results are elaborated in a book, a 'lecture with tasting' and various public media appearances like podcasts, talk shows and documentaries, through which I expand the reach of my projects and ensure a lasting impact.

How did you cope with the Corona crisis?

The crisis revealed even more points of friction in our current food system, and made the general public more aware of it. Even though I don’t believe that the ‘state of emergency’ brings a lot of positive political change at the moment, I do hope more people are getting invested in creating a better, fairer and more sustainable food system because of this crisis.

Who would you be happy to collaborate with?

Since I put collaboration at the core of my work, it would be too many to list. I work multidisciplinary and deeply appreciate expertise outside of my own field, like amazing chefs, insightful academics, cultural platforms or innovative players in the hospitality/food industry.