Update from the Oven Team

The last couple of days have been a roller coaster ride of creative ideas. Sometimes it seemed like we had a thousand different ideas on what to do or how to execute this project. The beginning of this project was definitely an overwhelming feeling that was hard to overcome but the next minute the creative spring had completely dried up. The cause of all our anguish was revolved around the idea that what the Kitchen Lab really needed was a functional kitchen component.

The trouble started as we debated what sort of cooking we would like to include, as that would dictate the kind of materials we would need to develop for inside the module. During the brainstorming session, we had numerous ideas that each member brought. One of the ideas that were brought up was a solar oven which would be the best option for Open Field, as the area is usually quite sunny and doesn’t lack for direct sunlight, so it just became a matter of harnessing the power of the sun to use as an education source for kids and adults as an environmental safe to cook food.

After some initial researching on the internet, we had a basic idea of the construction of the box and the materials we would need.  Diving into the prototyping phase, we constructed a couple different small boxes using the different techniques we had learned such as a cone shaped box, or just a regular box shaped solar oven.

It wasn’t until a particularly inspired trip to the Home Depot that we managed to find the perfect material for creating a reflective surface for the oven.  It was a reflective insulating material and an aluminum tape used in houses which was an absolute great material to use for the solar oven.  It became clear, even during the construction of the box, that this was exactly the material that we needed to have for our solar oven.  Our eyes blinded, as we stared into the box, we witnessed the first signs of success as a couple practice s’mores melted into mouth watering gooeyness.

Now comes the difficult part, the programming of the event for the Open Field.  We’ve thrown a lot of ideas around, but it looks like that we’re going to try making a fondue. We felt that fondue will be a great recipe because it was definitely a relationship with the hearth and our relationship to the hearth as a community by engaging one another.  We’ve never known for certain the highest temperature that our solar oven can reach, but we do know that it can melt things.  We’re thinking of gearing our programming around the communal aspect of different varieties of fondue, but perhaps having questions wrapped around the utensils that spark conversations around our solar hearth. This will be a great start of event to engage one another as well as educating the community by using the sun as natural resources. 


Reflections on the Amuse Bouche Event

The first of the Walker Kitchen Lab public projects took place last Thursday evening. (June 21, 2012) In restaurants, an amuse bouche, or mouth amuser, is a one bite meal that allows the chef to demonstrate their approach to food. The Kitchen Lab Amuse Bouche invited people at the Walker Art Center’s Target Free Thursday Night (TFTN) to create their own one bite meal that represented a little bit of Minnesota.

The project was developed by Carl and Betsy DiSalvo to engage the public in thinking about representations of ideas in different sensory food experiences, and to reflect on their community.  It also served as a prototype and model for Kitchen Lab collective that is building a series of kitchen experiences for the Walker Open Field.

Dryness and sweet taste profiles were used to help recreate the feeling of the 9 PM Minnesota summer sunset.

Participating was a little like playing a food game. With a placemat, or game board, in hand each player selected two “taste cards” and one “phrase card”. The taste cards had one word description of taste like sweet, sour, or umami. The phrase cards had short phrases that would hold special relevance to Twin City residents, such as “Fireflies in a jar”, “Algae on a lake”, “Slush in your boot” and, of course, “Minnesota nice”.  A wide variety of food and taste were provided and visitors brought their own to share.

They then selected ingredients from their two taste profiles and created a new one- bite meal that represented their phrase.  After finding the perfect recipe we asked them to make three, two to share and one to add to the artist collection along with their recipe. 

One family, including mom, dad and two children, spent over 30 minutes making their one bite meals. Mom’s final product recreated the feeling of the first day for shorts after the long Minnesota winter, using skewering tofu, mint, raspberry, and lemon after marinating each layer.

At the end of the evening I meet a mother and her teen daughter and friends. They were sitting at the artist collection table reading each label. I told them to go ahead and try what every they wanted and they were there for 30 min sampling and laughing. The mother complemented the event and I asked her how she heard about it. She said it was on an email blast she gets and it sounded really “intriguing and fun”. I asked her if they come to the Thursday night events very often. She told me that her daughter had been to the Walker one time before when her grandmother took her to a film last year, and she loved it so she wanted to bring her again. They live in Ham Lake and it was a one-hour drive to come to Amuse Bouche.  They had to wait when they first arrived at 7:00 because things we so busy at the Amuse Bouche table, so they walked around the neighborhood and in the sculpture garden. When they came back at 8:00 they made their meals and wrote up their recipes then just read over the other recipes until I came up at 9:00.

We currently have 4 more Walker Kitchen Labs that will be ready to prototype on Thursday night – you are all welcome to come. The currently named Oven, Water, Tea, and Smell labs will be ready for you to try out and play with.


Kitchen Lab at the Target Free Thursday Night

Walker Art Center Open Field

Thursday, June 28 6 PM – 9 Pm





Wednesday, June 20th 2012 – Smelling Mammaw’s Creole

GumboBlogimage One of my cousins sent this recipe around last year just after my grandmother died.

Nora Mae (Garbarino) Cart was my Mammaw, and despite the Italian and English sounding name she was Cajun. She spoke Cajun French before she spoke English. At a young age she married a man from a few towns away and went to live there for the remainder of her life. It was in this town, Iota, Louisiana, that she raised 12 kids on big pots of Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and Crawfish Etouffee.

When I think of these foods, when I taste them, or when I stir my roux in a cast iron pot, I think of Iota, my mother (who was considered to be the best cook in the family) and what it means to own this odd ethnicity. I mean just stirring some fat and flour – a simple but tedious task – makes my kitchen smell just like Mammaw’s. Those smells make me think of that humid little town where, from my childhood view, the men always had a beer in hand and the women were always cooking and cleaning. It isn’t all warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Like anyone’s memories of a big family, some are funny or sweet and others are still infuriating.

I was reminded of this recipe because one of the projects that the Kitchen Lab is developing is focused on the smells of the kitchen. To me the smells of the kitchen are so specific in ethnic foods – they are things that become such a part of your life that you don’t even note them until you loose them for a while and then they come back. In this way the power of smell is stealth. I hope the project becomes something that brings back these kind of strong memories for the participants. Connecting to art is as much about memories and histories we bring to the work as it is about the artist intention. Because of this, smell seems like a perfect provocateur.

“Theories and Practices of Community Engagement” + “Hearth”

As a student and a citizen, I am excited to delve into Kitchen Lab because I am passionate about finding ways that design can form community and activate positive change in our world. Innovative design can create new and healthy modes of community interaction and engagement, subverting traditional patterns, processes and structures that fail to bring us together.

The complicated realm of the kitchen is specifically loaded with potential for ways to us share our stories, our resources, our skills, our traditions, our successes and failures, our needs and desires, our gifts, our time and more.

We political, design-based social innovators who investigate concepts of community-engaged art ought to remember, then, that when we discuss these terms (especially with respect to food and the kitchen) we are talking about human beings relating to each other in intimate, complex ways. Back in February the Walker hosted a brainstorming session for Kitchen Lab, and participants wrote down their associations with the “kitchen” on a collection of sticky notes. Terms like hearth, home, satisfaction, fear, mystery, tradition and all sorts of isms came up.

Associations with the idea of "kitchen"

Much later, I was working on the course outline with the Kitchen Lab team and I started to wonder about our language in the project description. We wrote that we are “re-conceiving the ingredients, structure and function” of the kitchen, and the syllabus went on to present phrases like “theories and practices of community engagement,” “experience design,” “socially engaged art and design,” and “qualitative and design research methods for socially engaged art and design.” That all seemed very academic and heady (albeit super interesting) and somehow distant to some of the things we wrote down on our sticky notes way back when—words like “hearth“.

These theoretical terms and more visceral associations with the kitchen are not mutually exclusive, of course, simply different vocabularies. Reconciling them will be part of the coming challenge. I hope that the speakers we’ve invited to talk to the class will be able to address some of the more complex experiential/cultural/historical aspects of “the kitchen” within the context of our students’ design process.

I also look forward to discussing all the ismssexism, veganism, imperialism, etc.—and asking what it means to have a crew of academically trained, primarily young and probably well-intentioned white people tinkering with/redesigning something that has deep and deeply different meanings to a lot of different people.

Needless to say, I’m excited to put in my two cents and see what products, processes and experiences come out of the Kitchen Lab.