Why New Restaurants Look like Labs

The new lab aesthetic speaks to how food is being deconstructed and is presented as an object of study. We are reexamining what we thought we knew about food.

Verena Bahlsen

Food Trends: Gone are the days of candle-lit roast dinners. Lately, it seems like more and more restaurants look more like laboratories than food establishments. We sat down with HERMANN’S Co-Founder Verena Bahlsen and Art Director Marina Assreuy to discuss the new lab aesthetic, the rise of “clean meat” and the culinary war on coziness.

Verena pulled out photos she took at Sala Des Despiece in Madrid. The white tiles of the walls, the vast glass display filled with fish and meat, and the open kitchen had nothing to hide. In a world in which we are so removed from food, particularly meat, Sala Des Despiece brings creation and consumption to the forefront.

“The name of the restaurant literally means the cutting room. The trays, the interior, all transform the butcher’s from a place of disgust into a place of sophistication,” said Marina, HERMANN’S Art Director, after looking over the photos. Marina noted that the methodical repetition of the meat and the general mood of symmetry and sterility highlight the food presentation of Sala Des Despiece. She recognized Sala’s aesthetic as a visual counter-response to the plant-based movement. Can eating meat be justified if it is organic and of controlled origin? Can butcher’s shop be refined?

Verena nodded in agreement, but had a different take when she saw at the place. “I didn’t notice the meat emphasis, but the lack of coziness. This is not your mother’s kitchen. The place looks like a lab.”

Sala Des Despiece is not the only restaurant using the lab aesthetic. The Space 10 “living lab” is also spearheading the phenomenon. Locating in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district, Space10 incorporates the original lab-like features of the building, but with a plant-based focus.

Even the exteriors of Space10 and Sala Des Despiece echo one another with their white, minimalist, container-like architecture. Both places have a humble, corner-store appeal, but they also cross disciplines in concept and design.

But what is the driving force behind the lab aesthetic? Is it just a cool Scandinavian influence? Instagram bait for an Internet age? Or is the lab aesthetic a response spurred by a shifting food culture?

The lab aesthetic is not new: it seems to have taken hold with the molecular gastronomy movement of the early 2000s (see Heston Blumenthal.) But now the trend seems to have gone beyond high cuisine plates and has infiltrated into the infrastructure of the mainstream

“The new lab aesthetic speaks to how food is being deconstructed and is presented as an object of study. We are reexamining what we thought we knew about food.” Verena proposed and then toyed with the idea that the aesthetic might be driven by our cultural need to reach “an optimized self.” The discussion left the origins of the new lab aesthetic unsolved, but the aesthetic still seems to be a well of inspiration for restaurants that goes well beyond the plate – or Petri dish.

Images photographed by Jakub Krehel at HERMANN´S Berlin

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