John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
On tonight’s menu: smoked kale joints whose ingredients are based on data about cannabis consumption.
“If you eat a bunch of beets, how long will it take for my urine to turn red?”
That’s probably not a question many culinary-school students ask themselves. But for a small group of experimental “data cuisine” cooks, it’s a totally valid subject of inquiry. So during a recent dinner in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden, a daring individual named Didi Lehnhausen set out to answer the mystery with a snaking coil of beetroot hummus and a little cup for each diner.
The purpose of the cup is explained by Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko, who organized the Leeuwarden meal as well as data-cuisine workshops in Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki, and elsewhere. “The 8.8-meter line of hummus represents the average length of a human intestine. Before eating the hummus, each participant is provided with a plastic cup for collecting urine,” they email. “The participant should write his/her name and the time of intake on the cup. When the urine turns reddish, the hummus has been fully digested and the participant should note his/her personal time for digestion on the cup.”
That thwacking you hear in the distance is Michael Symon hitting himself for not personally thinking up this dish. Behold, the exquisite, soon-to-be-excreted hummus and (what I really hope is) a shot of beet juice:
Biohazards weren’t the only bizarre thing on the menu at the Leeuwarden event, held in conjunction with this year’s food-themed Media Art Friesland festival. Data dabblers from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Austria whipped up some truly strange fare—smoked-kale doobies that taught lessons about youth cannabis consumption, for instance, and a tagliatelle that doubled as a “meditation on an overaged society.” Here are a few more dishes, which had help in assembly from chef Klaas Kasma.
“Fresh Pasta, Old People” by Daan Bandringa, Anja Hertenberger, and Franzi Michelmann
Jaschko and Stefaner write: “Using data in the form of the population pyramid of Dutch citizens in 1960, 2015, and 2050, a pasta graphic is created. The three colors represent the young (green), the not-so-young-anymore (red), and the old (black). In order to give a taste of the different age groups, the 1960s pasta is topped with a meat sauce made with a prefab blend of spices by Knorr. The 2015 ‘back-to-basics’ pasta comes with carbonara, and the pasta of the future is a mix of noodles and wakame salad.”
“High sKale” by Saskia Burghardt and Saibot Karlsson
J & S: “Smoked kale is the key ingredient of these dishes that are based on data about cannabis consumption by 15 to 16-year-old kids in England (35% have tried cannabis), Italy (24%), and Sweden (8%). Three big joints are made with a filling representing the different countries: fish and chips, risotto, and pickled herring with boiled potatoes. To each of the fillings smoked kale is added according to the amount of pot smokers.”
“Urban Hunting” by Johanna Arco
J & S: “All food that could be collected for free by Johanna within two hours on a Saturday morning in Leeuwarden centre is used for the creation of four dishes: a potato-chicory gratin, a chicory-orange salad, a yogurt sauce, and a gado-gado (Indonesian salad). Instead of representing data, Johanna decided to collect data herself and see what she can do with it within very limited time.”
Had your fill yet? If not, here’s a bonus package of data creations from an August dinner in Basel. This “Onionland” small plate shows various countries’ use of Tor as layers of allium:
“Opes Helvetia” is a luscious representation of wealth inequality in Switzerland, made with chocolate, banana, and edible gold leaf:
The sad state of the climate is riffed on in “Melt Down,” a frozen dessert that participants heated with a blow dryer to simulate rising sea levels: