“In the contemporary urban German foodscape, people eat badly.”
Our Food and Space correspondent, Jashan Sippy of Sugar & SPACE met Itay Novik, a Berlin-based food designer who challenges the contemporary urban foodscape through his practice, Elements of Food.
“Hi, Itay! It’s a pleasure to meet you on a sunny day like this in beautiful Berlin.” I delve head-first into my pain aux raisins and am left with a foam moustache from sipping my cappuccino. “How did you find yourself creating the kind of work you do through Elements of Food?”
“I have a background in Industrial Design but no professional training in food. I conduct independent guided culinary tours of Berlin and write about food, philosophy [in English and Hebrew] and stress on simplicity when I shoot video recipes.” Itay finds this mode of communication most interesting.
“One of the first ever events I did was a pop-up stand selling falafels and lemonade at the Lion’s Club. In 2015 I helped a friend with a pop up restaurant and served 60 people and then in 2017, I catered for and hosted a 50 person birthday party as well as supplied food for the International Tourism Fair in Berlin.” Itay uses local ingredients for his food production and prefers to work with Mediterranean vegetables and fish. Itay lived in Italy (yes, I smiled too) and studied there at the onset of his culinary journey. He admires Thailand’s food culture for its simple complexity, vibrancy and vivaciousness.
“So you aren’t a Chef, but work with food. When you tell people this, how do they react? Do they understand?”, I ask, picking croissant crumbs off my lap and soaking in the views of this quaint outdoor street-front setting. “What do you think is the added value in the kind of work you do?”
“Berliners are so busy, going to the local market is too much of a hassle."
“I work on full concepts with food. It’s not about one specific activity. In the contemporary urban German foodscape, people eat badly. What we get readily in supermarkets are factory-made, processed products to put into our stomachs. I wouldn’t call this food – it isn’t nourishing our bodies.” He goes on to talk about a vicious cycle that all of us in urban settings face today. “Berliners are so busy, going to the local market is too much of a hassle. So they keep going back to the supermarket to buy this ‘food’. Fewer and fewer Berliners are willing to actually cook. I want to change this…” Itay is working on using traditional German ingredients in a modern way.
“What are your thoughts on the contemporary Berlin eating scene?” I look across the street at a restaurant and a café that read ‘VEGAN’ and happily take the last gulp of my almond milk cappuccino. We’re now walking towards the U-Bahn.
“I’m not vegan, I like meat. However, I find vegetables are more interesting to work with. I personally don’t get the whole avocado trend – I don’t like the texture of this ‘superfood’ and more than anything I am against capitalism in agriculture. It’s a sickness of the modern economy. I mean pineapples for one Euro?” Again, we’re in Germany, not Hawaii. “I don’t think we should surrender into silly trends like XXL junk food people eat to post on Instagram – there’s so much fat, sugar and sodium – it’s sickening”. I scroll through my Instagram feed and get a bit queasy looking at the larger-than-life six-layer cheeseburgers that have hundreds and thousands of likes and views.
“So you’re Israeli, living in Germany, started off your culinary journey in Italy and look up to Thai food culture?” I ask cheekily. Itay’s treating me to some delicious Italian pastries at one of his favorite spots in Berlin – Latodolce. “Surely these cross-cultural experiences must add something unique to your work?” There’s a diverse group of mixed-race tourists that have stopped to take pictures and sample some treats.
“My fondest food takes me back to my childhood, to my grandma – she made the most delicious schnitzel and fried potatoes. I curated, catered and hosted a Sit Down Dinner in a Synagogue for 100 people in Dresden and Berlin, to aid an anti-hunger drive. This was different and targeted at the modern Jewish community – men and women sat together for this meal in the synagogue. I have also participated in some Jewish food festivals recently. Israeli cuisine is new and novel in Europe and the USA.” Itay regularly meets up with a group of Israelis in Berlin and they create traditional Jewish food using their original family recipes.
“Where do you see the contemporary foodscape headed in the next five years? Who are the changemakers you look up to?”, I finally ask, licking pastry cream off my lips.
“Insect farming, industrial and lab-grown meat. It’s here – and could be widespread sooner than we can estimate. I look up to Udi Barkan – A fellow-Israeli chef who works with nutrition and diabetics at a political level. I admire the work of photographer and storyteller Simone Hawlisch.” You might run into Itay at Markthalle Neun during his weekly pitstop at craft butchers Kumpel & Keule.
This article was written by Jashan Sippy, our food and space correspondent.