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Famed Buddhist Nun Inspires Tableware for Steinbeisser

Through its Experimental Gastronomy Initiative, Steinbeisser partnered with vegan chef and South Korean nun Jeong Kwan, and a group of international artists, to create a new collection of tableware.

By Rachel Gallaher

Images courtesy of Steinbeisser

Hand-carved wood cutlery by artist Patrizia Keller, made in celebration of Steinbeisser's upcoming dinner with Buddhist nun and chef Jeong Kwan.

In 2017 Korean Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan rose to international fame when she appeared on season three of Netflix’s wildly popular show Chef’s Table—both for her vegan temple dishes and her philosophical approach to food. And while we can’t all travel South Korea to experience Kwan’s transformative cooking, thanks to Steinbeisser—an Amsterdam-based organization founded by Jouw Wijnsma and Martin Kullik that brings together renowned chefs and artists for a one-of-a-kind culinary event—anyone can bring the spirit of the experience into their own kitchen with a newly launched set of artisanal tableware.

As part of Steinbeisser’s Experimental Gastronomy program, Wijnsma and Kullik are planning to host a culinary experience with Kwan in Amsterdam this September. To mark the occasion, they have started to release tableware ranging from chopsticks and hand-carved wood cutlery to brightly colored glassware in organic, nature-inspired forms. Available exclusively through Steinbeisser’s Jouw Store, the pieces, which will be released in batches leading up to the September dinners, are a collaboration between Kwan, the Steinbeisser team, and a group of international artists.

For her pieces, glassblower Fabienne Schneider dug a hole in the ground and blew the glass directly into the hole, allowing the soil to shape the hot glass into these amorphous shapes.

“After [watching] the Chef's Table episode featuring Jeong Kwan, we were immediately intrigued by her happy, kind, and peaceful approach to food,” says Kullik. “The main inspiration [for the tableware] comes from nature—telling the story of materials that come from earth and go back to earth.”

According to Kullik the few guidelines they set for the 23 artists and studios included using only natural materials that were locally sourced or foraged in the wild, or materials that were found, upcycled, or repurposed. The artists based in South Korea had the opportunity to visit Jeong Kwan at the Baegyangsa temple.

The first five pieces, released last week, are from artists Fabienne Schneider (a colorful series of alienesque blown-glass goblets inspired by soil), Jochen Holz (bulbous glass cups with a strong haptic qualities), Joo Hyung Park (her oversized sculptural chopsticks reflect her work as a jewelry maker), Lukas Cober (a collection of recycled-wood chopsticks that reflect the idea of a material’s life cycle through the earth), and Patrizia Keller (her carved wood cutlery plays with our expectations of utensils).

ABOVE LEFT: The burnt-wood chopsticks by craftsman and designer Lukas Cober are made from naturally fallen Oak and Acacia wood as well as black natural fired clay that share the same roughness. ABOVE RIGHT: Jeweler Joo Hyung Park 's designs were made with the idea of 'capturing the moment' at top of mind.

“Each piece is different, first because we really love unique pieces, and also because we try to explore individual shapes and different forms and functions simultaneously, while providing the guests an unusual experience,” Kullik says. “Artist Lukas Cober draws inspiration from exploring the natural shapes of wood, Mitch Iburg explores the textures of native clay, Patrizia Keller shows the forms of our organs that are busy digesting the food, and many more.”

All meals served through Experimental Gastronomy are vegan, which square nicely with Kwan’s preferred approach to cooking, which includes veganism and a strong interest in pickling (some of her condiments ferment for years before use).

“Jouw and I both seem to have an insatiable hunger for wanting to do deep research on things that are important to us,” Kullik says. “That's why I started to do a lot of research on the origin of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, herbs and beans, mushrooms and grains, wild plants, and all things fermented. That curiosity eventually led to what has become an essential part of our project: the food scouting, meaning that months before the events take place, we do lots of tastings and letting chefs explore new ingredients.”

These colorful glasses, made by Jochen Holz, were designed to feel off-centered in the hand, giving the user an unusual sensation that forces them to engage with the pieces as they might not otherwise with a regularly weighted drinking vessel.

Much like the chefs prep for the dinners, chosen artists work spend time carefully choosing materials and approach, working to create dinnerware that blurs the boundary between utilitarian object (fork, knife, plate) and art piece and attempts to get diners to think about (and perhaps even reframe) their relationships with the food on their plates and the plates on the table. It’s another type of cycle meant to shake us out of our own heads in a way that allows us to better enjoy, and even celebrate, the moments that we take for granted, or that have become routine, such as eating and drinking. Put powerful, thought-provoking design into someone’s hands and it has the potential to change the way they see the world.

“Jeong Kwan's sensibility is incredibly inspiring and captivating, being able to work together on this project is truly a once in a lifetime experience,” Kullik reflects. “I'm incredibly thankful and so happy to be able to make this happen!”


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