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Food visionary

January 18th, 2011

Filed under: FOOD & TRAVEL


Franke Elshout in her tea house

I just spoke to Franke Elshout for an hour, but it felt like 15 minutes. We talked about food, local produce, crockery, (as well as the bio-industry, stress management, beer). Franke (28) is one half of Keukenconfessies (Kitchen Confessions) with Maarten Lockefeer, a food design studio and catering company. She is a foodie, a teacher of food design at HASkennistransfer in Den Bosch, is a mother-to-be (at the time of writing, 10 weeks to go!) and I think of her as a philosopher. Her connection to food is creative, intuitive, and it’s also larger than life.

Why food?
When you have a painter for a mother and a carpenter for a father and they’re busy setting up their businesses, then they don’t have much time for cooking yummy food. I was only 8 when I told my mother I could do a better job than she could! So I grew up, cooking the family meals. When I left home to continue my studies, my parents missed me of course – and my cooking too! When I went onto the Design Academy, it was a logical step to start using food as a material. At the time, no one else was really doing it.

Keukenconfessies is a food design studio and catering business. How did you get started?
While I was studying I worked at De Bommel, which is such a little kitchen that there was one chef and one dishwasher. Maarten was the chef … and I was the dishwasher. Lots of people said we should start up for ourselves. So setting up Keukenconfessies in 2003 helped pay for my studies.

What do you think is the most important aspect of food?
It’s about interactivity. We want people to pay attention to food, to be surprised about how it’s presented and the space that they’re in. My background is not as a chef, but as a designer. We don’t want to always serve up luxurious ingredients, but we make sure that the basics are there. We normally serve a vegetarian based meal and it’s very obvious which are the meat dishes and that they can be added to the base meal. Normally the dishes are so enjoyable that no one really misses the meat. We want to get people to enjoy food – and so we design concepts that get them to interact with what they’re eating. It’s impossible to perfectly plate up 200 plates at a reasonable price, and often when you eat food at festivals or events, the larger quantity means the quality suffers or it’s not hot enough. Our challenge is in keeping the experience and the quality high when catering for so many.

How do you make it all come together?
I try to use unexpected utensils and materials when presenting food. Like, I made some oven-proof ceramic dishes, which look like eggs. I served the eggs, filled with food, in the food cabinet – this is a piece of furniture you might normally put paper in.  Instead of paper there were all sorts of dishes inside it. When people opened a drawer, they’d be surprised to find soup, or salad. Or, eggs. They’d take out the still hot egg and walk back to their table, really carefully. Most of the structures we make to present food – like the lighting tables or the tea houses – are made in collaboration with our neighbours, Snodevormgevers who are on the same floor here in the Klokgebouw, on Strijp-S; they make all sorts of things, including kitchens. We’ve been here on this floor in the Klokgebouw for 5 years, and while it still looks sort of raw up here, we’ve done a lot of work to it and really love the space. The space is used for workshops and dinners but it’s also used as a workspace for corporate events – and we do the catering. Yesterday we had 80 members of the city council staff sitting here talking about innovations on social living followed by a bunch of architects having a seminar; for both events we provided drinks and snacks. It’s a great workspace, and provides a great environment for people to work in.

What are your tips for “regular people” to be creative in the kitchen?
Personally, I am more accustomed to preparing food for large groups – for the first time! – more often than I make smaller meals at home. For the home cook, my advice is to travel as much as you can, to sample authentic food, and then – it sounds like a cliché – to explore your way through a good cookbook. I also collect new materials wherever I go. Like, I like to collect bottles. Once I took a bunch of garden tools and served up a dinner on trowels and used little  watering cans for sauces.

Yes, real food for thought – try looking at objects in your surroundings to help you add a surprise element to your everyday food experience. For more inspiration,check out some of the food concepts on Franke and Maarten’s website. But for now, scroll down and enjoy the photos. And keep an eye on this spot for Franke’s tips on where to buy fresh, local produce in and around Eindhoven!

Light tables for a Philips Lighting food concept

Tea, anyone?

A wine rack made from a stack of market crates

Delicious local beer - my favourite flavour is honey...

Food cabinet - hm, I wonder what's in here?

One way to stash your preserves

Chill out in the Keukenconfessies lounge corner

Franke's food hooks and suspended pieces

Colourful and cosy seating with views of Strijp-S

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