Recombinatorial Cuisine

March 15, 2016

NO REPRO FEE 10/3/2016 Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin today launched FIELD TEST: RADICAL ADVENTURES IN FUTURE FARMING, a new free exhibition that opens to the public on 11th of March. Pictured is chef and researcher Molly Garvey inside the LOCI Food Lab, a travelling food cart for prototyping, serving and debating a range of bioregional food futures at different sites around the world and allows visitors to the cart explore 'bite-sized bioregionalism' by identifying the attributes of the food system that are important to them. FIELD TEST: RADICAL ADVENTURES IN FUTURE FARMING asks if in the future, will we embrace lab-grown meat, tractor drones and vertical farms or are we willing to pay more for the slow, the local and the hand-picked? Is a truly sustainable farm compatible with meat from a lab or cutting edge technology? Should disappearing pollinators be replaced by robot bees? Will scientific researchers innovate to meet growing global consumption, or will visionaries reinvent farms as on-demand food forests, skyscrapers or even theme parks? The full list of exhibits can be found at Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

The completion of the LOCI Food Lab version 3.0, caused us to realize that there was a shared thread through our recent researc. We pulled together some of this work and are thinking about it under the theme of: RECOMBINATORIAL CUISINE.

Recombinatorial Cuisine is a research project that uses data to sort and recombine ingredients in new ways, with particular attention to attributes that are not included in commercial databases about food. Instead of creating algorithms and databases with the most universal and generic attributes, our work focuses on smaller and more particular datasets and audiences, using digital technology for culinary inspiration without losing the biological, geographic and ecologic specificity of gastronomy.

COBALT-60 SAUCE is a series of barbecue sauces made from common mutation bred ingredients, that are derived from the FAO/IAEA Mutant Variety Database.

SPICE MIX SUPER COMPUTER 2.0 is a machine designed to blend, taste and record every spice combination possible on earth.

LOCI FOOD LAB is a traveling food stand for prototyping, serving and debating a range of bioregional food futures in different bioregions around the world.  


This research has proven to be of interest to people who are excited about the potential of digital technology to aid creativity and gastronomy, but also care deeply about the specific regional, genetic and cultural provenance of a food. As we build each database and algorithm we work with a range of collaborators and publics to visit the sites of food production, gather food ingredients, test flavours and recipes, and refine our work. This process of assembly and interaction with growers, cooks and eaters is a key aspect of the research. The research is most often shared in the form of a pop-up food cart or food stand, which puts the database and the recombined food out for people to touch, taste, debate and take home.

The database can be manipulated through tools such as punch cards and iPads, and the data that is collected and recombined is displayed on monitors and thermal printers.

NO REPRO FEE 10/3/2016 Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin today launched FIELD TEST: RADICAL ADVENTURES IN FUTURE FARMING, a new free exhibition that opens to the public on 11th of March. Pictured is chef and researcher Molly Garvey inside the LOCI Food Lab, a travelling food cart for prototyping, serving and debating a range of bioregional food futures at different sites around the world and allows visitors to the cart explore 'bite-sized bioregionalism' by identifying the attributes of the food system that are important to them. FIELD TEST: RADICAL ADVENTURES IN FUTURE FARMING asks if in the future, will we embrace lab-grown meat, tractor drones and vertical farms or are we willing to pay more for the slow, the local and the hand-picked? Is a truly sustainable farm compatible with meat from a lab or cutting edge technology? Should disappearing pollinators be replaced by robot bees? Will scientific researchers innovate to meet growing global consumption, or will visionaries reinvent farms as on-demand food forests, skyscrapers or even theme parks? The full list of exhibits can be found at Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Bio Art | Altered Realities

September 27, 2015


The Center’s work is featured in the new book Bio Art: Altered Realities by William Myers, published by Thames and Hudson. 



“In an era of fast-paced technological progress and with the impact of humans on the environment increasing, the concept of “nature” itself seems called into question. Bio Art explores the work of “bio artists,” those who work with living organisms and life processes to address the possibilities and dangers posed by biotechnological advancement.

A contextual introduction traces the roots of bio artistic practice, followed by four thematic chapters: Altering Nature, Experimental Identity and Mediums, Visualizing Scale and Scope, and Redefining Life. The chapters cover the key areas in which biotechnology has had an impact on today’s world, including ecology, biomedicine, designer genomes, and changing approaches to evolutionary theory, and include profiles of the work of sixty artists, collectives, and organizations from around the world. Interviews with eight leading bio artists and technologists provide deeper insight into the ideas and methods of this new breed of creative practitioners.”


You can purchase a copy of Bio Art here.

Meat Map & Food Futurism in Disnovation Pop-up, Moscow

September 2, 2015


Meat Map and Food Futurism (originally featured in the Center for Genomic Gastronomy’s Pray for Beans book) were displayed in Moscow last month as part of the Disnovation pop-up show. Disnovation is a critical exploration of the mechanisms and rhetoric of innovation, and the event was hosted by the Polytechnic-Museum and the Strelka Institute

More about the event


About Disnovation:

“Over the past few decades, industrialised societies have experienced an unprecedented technological boom. The advent of information and communication technologies, irrigating whole domains of our existence, has deeply transformed our relationship with the surrounding world. This global phenomenon has contributed to put techno-sciences at the core of our belief systems and the consumption / innovation duality as the driving force behind our economy.


The notion of innovation is the ultimate contemporary rhetorical tool, spreading from the technoscientific field into the sectors of politics, management, eduction and art. Thus we arrive at the hypothesis of a possible “propaganda of innovation”, as an ideology aiming to solve any need, problem, or desire through the production of constantly changing artifacts and concepts, justifying technological obsolescence in the name of short-term economic vitality.”



Marte Teigen on Food Phreaking 01

June 1, 2015

This past spring we had the pleasure of working with Marte Teigen, a talented student at KHiB, in Bergen, Norway. As part of her internship at the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, she got to put her inventive illustration and visual communication skills to use on Food Phreaking issue 01. Marte has recently posted her own photos of the book, and you can find out more about her work here.

bok0 bok2













The Center Is Hiring…

April 21, 2015

Spend your summer in lovely Kew Gardens interacting with the public and opening people’s eyes and noses to the delightful world of spices!


Are you energetic and love talking to the public? Are you interested in art, science and spices? The Center for Genomic Gastronomy are creating a new Spice Mix Super Computer for Kew Gardens. The interactive installation will be open starting May 21 and will run through early September. We are looking for people to run the day-to-day operations of the installation, greeting the public and guiding them through the experience.

No specific prior experience is necessary, as you will receive training from us in mid May. However, previous experience in the service industry is a benefit. This role is suitable for students or anyone else looking for engaging part-time work.

The installation will be open 6 days a week, and individual mediators can work for up to 4 days a week, in either 4 hour shifts or 6 hour shifts between 11.30am and 6pm. In addition, there are a few late night events throughout the summer.


Photo by Patche99z 

April 28 – We will meet or skype with potential candidates
May 13 & 20 – you should be available for full-day (6 hours) paid training  (£9 – 10/ hr.)
May 20 – Sept. 6 – up to 4 shifts a week

Mediators – £9 – 10/ hr
Lead Mediator – £10 – 11/ hr

 You are perfect for this job if:
You are energetic, you love talking to people, you like to learn new things, you are responsible and punctual, a good communicator, tidy and willing to problem solve on the spot when necessary. You are okay with working both indoors and outdoors and working on your feet.


– The mediator is there to guide the visitor through the experience. This involves talking to the public in a natural and welcoming way, and engaging them in conversations in topics relevant to the installation (spices, computers, art, science).

– As well as engaging with the public, your job will be to manage them, maintaining a safe environment.

– The mediators will set-up and shut-down the installation at the beginning and end of each day. This will involve cleaning, turning on and off electronics, making sure everything is operational and troubleshooting any technical issues.  

– We will provide training in communications and public engagement to help you communicate effectively with the public and manage the installation.

– You should be responsible, organised and tidy.

The lead mediator will perform the same tasks as a mediator, and will also have additional responsibilities:

– Service as the contact person for the mediators and the main point of contact with Kew staff.

– Create and manage work schedules, resolve conflicts and be ready to stand-in as a mediator if necessary.

– Ensure that all materials are in stock and re-ordered when necessary.  

– You will work at the installation, in addition to performing administrational tasks.

– You will communicate regularly with the Center for Genomic Gastronomy

– Serve as lead communications liaison with Kew Gardens staff throughout the festival.

Contact Cathrine Kramer at for more details or to apply.
– Title the email “Mediator Application”
– send your cv
– a short text (200 words max) about yourself and why you are interested
– a reference (name, relationship and contact info)
– availability between May and September to.
– Also specify if you are interested in being the lead mediator.

We look forward to hearing from you!


LOCI Food Lab Scotland

February 23, 2015

On November 25th, 2014, the Center presented the second iteration of LOCI Food Lab in Edinburgh, both on the street and the in the Scottish Parliament. 

LociScotland_01LociScotland_03LociScotland_02LociScotland_05  LociScotland_04   

This edition of LOCI was a collaboration with chefs Ben Reade and Dave Crabtree-Logan (co-founders of The Scratch Series), both recently arrived back in Scotland. Ben after a stint at Nordic Food Lab while Dave recently returned from working in Portland, OR in the US.

LociScotland_06 LociScotland_07 LociScotland_08 LociScotland_09 LociScotland_10 LociScotland_11 LociScotland_12

The LOCI Food Lab: Edinburgh project was one outcome of the Nil By Mouth talent development program, which invited four artists to explore food, farming, science and sustainability through a series of collaborative residencies and workshops. The project is set in the context of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Program (SRP) and was designed and managed through a partnership between the Crichton Carbon Centre, Creative Scotland and Wide Open.  



IFTF Interview

January 30, 2015

Back in the summer of 2014 we sat down with Sarah Smith from Institute For The Future as part of her research for The Future of Food in 20 Objects. We finally had a chance to transcribe the interview and even though it is off the cuff, and conversational, we thought that included a good summary of our first four years worth of research.

NOTE: Some sections of the interview have been edited for clarity or accuracy. 


SARAH: I would love to start with you description of the Center For Genomic Gastronomy and your mission.

CGG: Our official description is An artist-led think tank that examines the biotechnologies and biodiversity of human food systems, but we’ve been working on a new way of defining Genomic Gastronomy in the last year, which is the study of organisms and environments manipulated by human food culture.

We were really interested in looking at food from the prospective of biology and ecology. The title “Genomic Gastronomy” came from a play on molecular gastronomy, which was (and is still) very popular. [Molecular gastronomy] was all about chemistry and a reductive approach to food: how do we understand the base chemical elements of food and build up a narrative or event from these chemical constituents? 

When we started in 2010, there was a big transition in the high-end cuisine world from [restaurants like] El Bulli and Fat Duck to NOMA and the Scandinavian approach. We started joking that NOMA was really just a restaurant that was doing “Genomic Gastronomy” and that they stole our idea. [It was] a bit facetiously because we thought well, we are artists and don’t have a big relationship with the restaurant or food world. But then, about two years ago, we were contacted by Nordic Food Lab (NOMA’s R&D restaurant) and we went over and had dinner with them. It actually turns out that there IS a lot of crossover, which is really fascinating. They are interested in terroir and time and place in [a given] region of the world. But they also spend a lot of time looking at the different cultivars of plants, and different sub-species of fish and ecosystems of fisheries. While we’re trying to push ideas from an artistic angle, looking at biotech and ecology, high end cuisine is already heading in this direction, so there was an interesting confluence we hadn’t predicted.  

TCP_van_snow555   Russel Market Research

S: So neither of you had any food system background before this? You come at it from the art perspective? 

CGG: When we met in 2010, Cat had been working on an ice cream van that attempted to make it snow ice cream, and [Zack] was doing food research with art students in Bangalore, India

ZACK: I had been really interested in what was happening with biotechnology, and I was seeing a huge lack of criticality. On the one hand there was industry hype, and on the other hand popular resistance to GMO, but there seemed to be very hardened cultural positions. We thought artists had a role to play in challenging the norms and metaphors that were playing out. Many of the [pre-existing] metaphors used within the biotech literature and field were about engineering (see: BioBricks and IGEM). These metaphors really glossed over the ways life is actually quite different from code. That was a huge inspiration, so we started [asking], could we use food or gastronomy as a lens to challenge these norms of biotech? 

Since then we’ve really branched out because [we discovered that] biotechnology in itself is really a poor metaphor for the interaction of humans with other life forms, mediated by tools. Now, we’ve gone way beyond that initial idea of food and biotechnology. 

S: [To discuss] that idea of driving metaphors of our current food system, for example the industrial metaphor as a dominant one, [has there been a] shift from industrial models to information age [models]? What does that look like in the food system to you?

CGG: There’s an assumption that we go from an industrial to a post-industrial information economy, but we’re seeing another trend as well, which is the craft economy— or a desire for people to relate to their local ecosystem services or their region. It doesn’t have to be totally separate from the information economy, but there does seem to be a schism. 

There is also a fundamental materiality to food that you can’t really digitize, no matter how much people try.

beyond eggs   soylent 
Beyond Eggs & Soylent

S: Beyond Eggs is a good example [of a] distribution model where you would break things down into small parts and distribute it through a resilient network.

Centgg: We do spend a lot of time thinking about technology, but I think it’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and situation—like contemporary architecture that tries to be sustainable, but doesn’t just look backwards towards regional materials and methods, but also uses high-performance materials. I think we’ll see really interesting food cultures take these hyper-efficient, lets say, industrial materials like Beyond Eggs, but also combine that with hand-foraged herbs from a new walkable forest that is planted.

Right now I think there is a really awesome opportunity to bring those two worlds together. We have a lot of reactionary, conservative food groups (for example, [groups who think we] should only make sourdough the way it was made 500 years ago), and we also have this food start up movement that wants to “disrupt” everything. Those are both less interesting than if they were combined. I think that’s where we get really excited.

The information technology space [enables lots of] information about organisms, ingredients and techniques to go around the globe really fast. We’re particularly interested in (and [currently] exploring through our Food Phreaking project) the bringing together of some of the ideas, ethics, values, and metaphors from the open source and open culture movements to food technology. [Right now], a lot of well funded food technology is following the privatized model. 

Soylent is interesting because even though we think it’s a ridiculous project, they do have the sort of open source community side, and they are trying to make an open platform. But from the prospective of nutrition and other things it follows these absurd, 1950s, pill food ideas.

CGG: A Scottish scientist we’ve been working with who studies phytochemicals and micronutrients, argues that we don’t know enough about what [humans] need to be healthy. There’s no way you could be so reductive with a product [like Soylent] and be healthy.

And even from her perspective, focussing on the nutrition, why would you want to [be so reductive]? I think that’s what a lot of people are reacting against: we don’t want just industrialized food.

CGG: The application of design and design thinking to food is actually super scary because it presumes that there is always a need for new “products” and tends to define innovation in terms of efficiency, fungibility and profit. Products and innovation aren’t in themselves bad things, but [design thinking in food] has actually kind of been a failure as practiced in the market. Some very interesting design thinking projects that were community oriented have more promise…

I think looking towards the future, code and disruptive design, and the tech industry in the Bay Area, are terrible metaphors for what we should be doing with food. We need metaphors that are much more interesting and appropriate to life than “disruptive innovation” , and I am not sure they exist yet. 

Biohacking’s an interesting [direction], but it’s maybe more interesting in Europe where there’s more consideration of how to combine it with tradition, or how to maintain it in a context that is political and not just profit maximizing.

Culinary Breeding Network

 IFTF: So, in that context of the ethos of an open source movement, are there specific technologies or even efforts that you’ve seen that really excite you or are interesting application of open source technology with food?

CGG: Open source seeds [have been in the news recently]. Plant scientists are concerned about the consolidation of seeds and the privatization of seeds. Their research is being affected by large companies patenting certain traits that they’ve been working with for twenty years. So, while it was a much more open system in the past, now it’s closing It is very fascinating because it brings up so many interesting legal questions and the [scientists] who are doing this have no financial weight [compared to the giant corporations], so basically if it did become a legal issue there would be no way of [funding their side].

The Culinary Breeding Network is a fascinating organization that we are hoping to learn more about. 

CGG: Two colleagues of ours that are doing really great work are: 

Hackteria (a DIY bio group run by Marc Dusseiller). They do a lot of workshops and pulling together methodologies and tools, and making inexpensive hardware and methods for DIY biology. There’s often a food element because that’s what brings people in. But what I think is really important about them is that they are really serious about the open source aspect of everything they do, and you already see a lot of DIY bio  communities becoming more proprietary and less open, so they are a counter example of that.

Daily Dump in Bangalore, India is more about dealing with food waste side. Poonam Bir Kasturi has [created] an open source business platform for at home processing of food scraps. It’s a really interesting model for an open source business. She started making a few of these local businesses, but [now anyone] can clone the whole business and [she] provides all the resources to do that.

CGG: There’s always a tension between fungibility and efficiency versus resilience, and I think that’s the problem that large organizations have in this space. It’s that they are thinking primarily in terms of efficiency and economies of scale, but when it comes to food and integrating back into sustainable services and ecosystems, we may not want that, we may actually want diversity, sovreignty and resiliency. It’s not an either / or, but efficiency still seems to be at the center of most policy and market conversations, and advocates of resilient de-centralized systems are mocked in the mainstream.

We may want plants that ARE’NT fungible, that we sort of have to keep near where they are grown that don’t make sense to export whether it be nationally or internationally, increasing local food sovereignty. So that’s a huge tension.

The Climate Cooperation is a really interesting company. In a way, it’s a shame that they were acquired by Monsanto because it casts a shadow and people are going to be skeptical now, and using the goal of efficiency, and armed with cheap code and cheap data, the costs could be so low that lots of different kinds of farmers could use it, not just intensive industrial farmer. These kinds of things could work at multiple scales, but they may not just because the money’s not there, but that maybe is the promise of digital technology. They can scale across everything from a one acre urban farm to 5,000 acres.  

Carl DiSalvo (with his GrowBot Garden) has been doing a lot of good research on how agricultural technology could be applied at different scales, not just industrial farming, but also urban farming or permaculture. For example, could we imagine agricultural products for permaculture? This goes back to my earlier point: there doesn’t have to be a separation between tech and nature. Something like robots for permaculture, what  would that look like? And that’s a way more interesting metaphor than the industrial metaphor or the reactionary response of robots don’t belong in farming.

GrowBot Garden 

S: I want to go back to the whole topic of groups like Monsonto casting a bad light on genetic modification and people’s fear of genetically modified food. What are you seeing in terms of a cultural shift in being more open to biohacking and will become accepted?

CGG: I don’t think there’s been a shift in Europe. In the US, there’s a lot less criticality. When things enter the supermarket, people seem ready to adopt these new technologies, which is cool—it’s one of the things I love about America, but Monsanto’s done such a bad job in conducting itself [and] in public relations, that even in the US, it’s going to be a long time before people are openly and actively desiring different kinds of transgenic organisms to be part of the food system.

S: Do you think that transparency or people’s personal experience and getting to do it themselves [is important]?

CGG: [There are techniques] for making these technologies more acceptable to the public, but I don’t think we presume that these technologies or techniques are good at a system-wide scale. There’s nothing about making corn more efficient that we believe is really helpful because that falls again into this industrial paradigm. All these biotech techniques are very exciting, if they are used for things that are desirable by individual human beings or communities. There’s nothing particularly interesting about making corn more efficient because it is again that top-down industrialized vision. What we dream about is how to use biotech to make something like a tomato that is more flavorful. Imagine if there was a breeding network devoted to using any breeding technique possible to make the most flavourful and untransportable tomatoes possible. How could you imagine having the most ridiculously over-engineered plant that could only exist in this one square mile, so that it couldn’t be exported, and it would just rot as soon as it left a very small micro-climate? To take it out of the fungible, industrial system. And those are very interesting provocations, but the problem is right now, all the metaphase and funding is coming from private industry, and even academic research is trying to solve problems, and maybe being too narrow with what we could dream of for these technologies.



S: Do you think that breeding for something like draught resistance is just not addressing the real problem? 

You want to improve and perfect crops for different situations, so it’s really just a question of what’s the situation we’re looking at? Are we actually talking about indigenous farming that was traditionally used as subsistence farming, but now the World Bank in the 70s started making them export? So there’s a lot of these political factors that are what actually make people upset—not the biology, but the politics and economics, but those things get conflated.

It’s interesting to think about, for example, regional cuisine and protected designation of origin foods in Europe. As climate change will shifts growing conditions, PDO plants will no longer grow [in their original locations]. Will people accept genetic modification as a way of continuing that tradition, or will that be completely unacceptable? I have a feeling, especially for something like a Bordeaux wine, it will be completely unacceptable. However, climate change may completley undermine the PDO system in Europe, which is grounded in the terroir of landscapes that go through changes from year to year, but are generally steady over longer time scales.

The Center’s Cobalt-60 Sauce

CGG: In our work, we do two things [that address this]: 

One is remain critical in all aspects of the work. We’re not necessarily trying to be advocates, we’re trying to be critics about the politics, economics and biology. For example, we’re [currently] looking at the history of mutation breeding, but really it’s a prompt for our audience to go deeper into their biological fears, and to understand biology more, and say, well what is the biological difference between transgenic technologies and mutagenic technologies? In some ways, the mutagenic might be much more immeasurable in terms of its downstream effects and consequences for human and plant health. However, [transgenic and mutagenic technologies have very] different political contexts. The mutation breeding programs were state-run, top-down, centralized, whereas biotech, as it’s practiced in the US, is largely profit-maximizing, corporate-driven research. Mutation breeding was utopian and modernist, using new radiation technology to save the world and feed people. That’s some of the same rhetoric you see with GMOS, but both of those haven’t been successful at their stated goals. So there’s this hype and fear cycle, and at the end of it, you’re left with a new suite of crops and a new political configuration. And that’s what always happens—these technologies will never end starvation. [Starvation] is a political problem, it’s not a biological or even agricultural problem. So I think that’s why people are so disturbed and upset, because they see how much hype there was in the 90s with GMOs, how poorly it was delivered, and then the companies saying, oh well it’s because you’re constraining us and putting more hurtles [in place]. But really, the whole conversation is moot, it’s not a biological [issue], it’s economic and political. So we’re trying to remain critical of this.

And then, since we actually serve food, we’re trying to give diners the opportunity to taste the future or to challenge themselves to put unusual things in their bodies, and that’s a very different commitment then what you see in Wired, CNN, or a lot of design fiction work, which is here’s this crazy thing and people don’t actually have to commit or remain critical because they just use their optics and not their physical or haptic ways of experiencing it. They see some crazy story on CNN about how steaks will be grown in the lab and we won’t have to kill animals, but they don’t have to actually deal with that process as it exists. When we do in vitro meat projects, like Art Meat Flesh, which is a cooking series where we cook fetal bovine calf serum, and say, hey folks, right now, this is where the state of the art is. Are you comfortable eating this? Some people are, and some people have left crying and throwing up.

Art Meat Flesh


S: What are the different types of activities that you do at the Center?

CGG: We do cookbooks, presentations, exhibitions, meals, lectures, and workshops. We’re a very small collective of artists so we’re very constrained by the funding that we can receive. We need to retain our critical voice, we don’t fall into the hype cycle of in vitro meat will save everything,” but we also shouldn’t ignore that cultural narrative because we think it’s just hype.

We have to look for interesting and unusual outlets like arts organizations, DIY bio people, universities, but so far we haven’t worked with anyone like Frito-Lay or Coca Cola. I think the conversation we have is to make provocations, but to also ground our research in biology and ecology and to not just have paper architecture, or design fiction, or speculative fiction, which is basically 3D renders or special effects. Sometimes we will use speculative techniques when it’s appropriate, but we also have this desire to source actually ingredients so we can see the food system as it exists, as we imagine the future. We want to work with the organisms and ingredients themselves where possible.  

S: So, in scenarios where you’re coming up with things that don’t yet exist, what’s your process for making that a visceral experience for someone?

CGG: They will often be really grounded in things that do exist- no future comes out of thin air.

With Mark Post, we made seven dishes, and one of them was asking, Mark, if you could fantasize about combing any tissue culture or cells, what would it be? He said, In the US, they have ‘surf and turf,’ so it would be really cool to grow lobster cells and beef cells and combine them into a new thing. So for that dinner in front of a live audience we cooked a live lobster, and cooked steak and put it in the blender with fetal bovine serum (FBS) and egg whites (the FBS was an amazing binder), and served it as a paté. So we were trying to communicate a few things: one, you can combine a few different cells in the lab and have this fantastical protein translation, but also that it’s going to be a mush. It’s not going to be a steak. So this idea of realist speculative gastronomy – they are actually eating this thing, they’re feeling the mushy flavor in their mouth, they’re getting the scent of iron. In this case it is a metaphor, it’s not actually meat grown in the lab, but it has a lot of the components and they also have to stomach it. We’re trying to create metaphors that don’t already exist in the dominant discourse around the future of food.

[Another] project is the Vegan Ortolan, where we took the cruelest meat dish we could find, and now have an ongoing cooking contest where people try to make a totally vegan version of it—[the chefs] have to make the bones, the liver, the head, the brain. So this is imagining, what if we didn’t have just fake sliced meat that was vegan? But actually recreate a whole animal? We’re actually talking about [this project] now as cultural exorcism. What people love about beasts is that there are many complex components, and that if we push that to its extreme, what does it look like? Political vegans don’t want fake meat, some vegetarians and less political vegans will have it, but what if we took this to an extreme that no one really wants? To recreate this really cool dish and exorcise these ghosts from the past of cruelty.

SG-ortolanAbove-700x698   Vegan ortolan feeding time
Vegan Ortolan

S: What did [Vegan Ortolan] look like? What’s its story?

CGGArtists play with a lot of symbols. [Vegan Ortolan] is a symbol of a lot of things: high french cuisine, the ultimate dish of decadence, maleness and male kitchen culture. It’s illegal to sell in the EU, but it’s still served in back rooms, and it was Mitterrand’s last meal.

[The Ortolan bird] is force-fed, it’s eyes are poked out, you keep it in a box, then it’s drowned in armagnac. Then it’s baked in the oven for twenty minutes and you’re supposed to eat it whole, so you have the beak, the bones, the guts, and the idea is that all these flavors swirl together in your mouth and it takes a good while to chew.

Z: I think what a truly delicious vegetarian or vegan cuisine requires is human labor. Instead of the [responsibility] being put on the animal to put this biomass on its body and have this real complexity, vegetarian and vegan cuisines will demand human attention and care. They won’t be able to be industrialized, though maybe some components might be industrialized, but what’s going to make [them] amazing are those last moments where herbs, spices, combinations of flavors and textures put together by a chef. The US is particularly unsuited for this. We have such a hard time now with labor and paying humans appropriately because of exploitation, so we try to get in efficiencies through machining or making things really industrialized in chain kitchens. Vegan Ortolan is the opposite of that.  It’s trying to take all these different aspects of an animal and the flavor profile, the crunchiness of the bones, the unctuousness of the flesh, the bitterness of the guts, the performance of it, that food should be an opportunity to celebrate or to tell a story. It’s really the anti-industrial food narrative, but wrapped up in this story that people are familiar with about cruelty to animals. 

[This project] creates a moment of dissonance, disgust and often dark humor, which is really important for us. People ask, Wait, what is their position? Why would you want to make a vegan thing about cruelty? That seems really weird or why do they have sheets over their heads? We want to deal with in vitro meat on its own terms sometimes, but also want to tell the story of the future of protein with totally different metaphors, and this is one of those metaphors. It’s not a normative one, so people actually have to stop, and think, or laugh, or be confused or process it. Whereas when you see a steak in a petri dish people are like, oh yeah, I get it, that’s the future.



Decadence For All, Lisbon Planetary Sculpture Supper Club

CGGWe have an essay that we wrote called, Decadence for All [about how] this idea of decadence, or joy, or excess shouldn’t only include images of meat and rich people. How do we actually create decadence and excess in ways that are pleasurable? And not just over-consuming potato chips and soda (though there’s something to be said for that). So the Vegan Ortolan is part of that research base: how do we actually create a vegan dish that’s decadent and uses older metaphors and almost turns them on their head? That’s one aspect of it. 

S: So would you say that one of your visions for the future of food would be decadence for all?

CGG: That would be a much better solution space than efficiency because it takes into account, beauty, and joy and pleasure and possibly sustainability (if it’s really for all), and inefficiency and resilience. Yes, I would rather see people making decadence and pleasurable food systems, than efficient. 

S: What are you most hopeful about and most fearful about for in our future of food system?

CAT: I’m most hopeful for increased biodiversity, seeing small movements concerned with food taking off and becoming more mainstream. The fact that food has blown up as a topic over the last few years is really amazing. 

Z: Culinary biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity. I’m most hopeful about the diversity of approaches and solutions and actors that are trying to solve interesting problems. Think tanks, corporations, chefs, farmers: the scale of people who are actively identifying food as a thing that needs lots of different voices is really exciting. I think I’m most scared of the Bay Area and tech entrepreneurs who don’t understand that food is not code. They have a lot to contribute, but until they that disruption has a downside, that could be a little bit scary. We’ll wait and see how it plays out. 

S: So, speculate on two scenarios: one is that people are going to have it be genetically modified and still be from that place, like the terroir is still the most important thing. Or [two], they would rather not have modification, so what would the alternative seal of quality or cultural legacy be on a product?

Z: There could be a biological seal where people look on the genetic level.

C: So you would almost have to sequence the DNA to [know what it is].

Z: PCR to mouth.

S: Is it possible to fake those bio markers?

CGG: Sure, that’s the sort of the design noir approach: what’s a sort of emerging technology and how do we use it?

One way you can distinguish between good food and not-so-good food is through taste. But [changes] happen slowly over time. For example, tomatoes becoming less and less flavorful over time. You don’t really notice it from one day to the next. But within a decade there’s a huge shift that’s happened.

This is where Europe is going to have a lot of problems. Their food culture is still rooted in conservatism, whereas the US is so much about innovation. I think actually the US (I go back and forth on what opportunities different geographies have) has a great opportunity to do adaptive bioregionalism. It’s not as set in its ways. If we see plants migrating north because of warming, like maple trees and maple syrup [for example], bioregionalism isn’t set in stone. It needs to be adaptive, and so much of the new EU laws around food are codified, whereas the US is willing to innovate. So that combination of innovating and trying new things and the entrepreneurial spirit with a sensitivity to ecosystems and regionalism is actually a great place for the US to be in, but it would mean that food systems would have to decentralize, and Portland (or the Pacific Northwest) is one of the few examples of food systems that are really starting to do that.


C: I wonder if less weight will be given to geography as these things shift and change. So, it may not be about a PDO (protected designation of origin), it might be a PDA (protected designation of atmosphere), where you’re looking at air quality and humidity and other elements of the environment as opposed to a physical geography. 

S: Dan Barbar is the Chef at Blue Hill in New York and he has a new book out called The Third Plate. [He writes] that if the first plate was the iconic American steak and potatoes (industrial farmed food), then the second plate would be a grass-fed beef with heirloom tomatoes and a farm to table movement, but dictated by the proportions and driven by high french cuisine ([yet still with] the whole American ethos of never being constrained and a total abundance)… [then] his vision for this third plate would be one that’s driven by the constraints. What would an actual American cuisine look like? A cuisine that is constricted by the actual resources available to us? So if farmers are having to grow heirloom tomatoes because that’s what chefs are demanding, then they’re also growing all these other things, like the beans they grow in between cycles to fix nitrogen into the fields, so that they can actually grow those tomatoes well. So, how can we embrace and actually support the full system? 

CGG: The cuisine of permaculture or adaptive bioregionalism. I think that’s great. I think what’s exciting about the US as well, is that it’s open to the new technologies and techniques of food. So if there’s an absolutely amazing, high performing ingredient like Beyond Eggs that you can then combine with some other thing, people here will do that. They’re not afraid of that kind of thing. And that’s great, but it has to be a choice, and it has to be pleasurable and desirable. It can’t just be like,  oh you should never eat eggs because they’re naughty, or this is much cheaper, go with it. It depends on the values and beliefs that you’re making these decisions based on, and if it’s about pleasure and joy, I’m all about combining the most crazy, industrial ingredient with a just-picked, wild herb. That’s the most exciting part! And those people are starting to talk to each other.

S: That’s a great metaphor to come away from here with, how can we be cultivating pleasure and joy in everything we do?

Now Serving Cobalt-60 Sauce…

December 31, 2014

Cobalt-60 Sauce is currently being exhibited (and is available to sample) at MU in Eindhoven as part of Matter of Life | Growing new Bio Art & Design

“Pigeons, fungi, human cells, finches and flowers are just some of the mediums of bioart and design. These emerging fields are the source of daring experiments and thoughtful reflections about how aspects of culture, such as our concepts of identity, nature and environment are changing.”

The exhibition and our piece were recently reviewed on the WMMNA blog.


Matter of Life, MU, Strijp-S, Eindhoven, the NEtherlandsImage courtesy of MU



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