Meet Sonia Verguet
Our Food & Experience correspondent Maud de Rohan Willner recently interviewed Sonia Verguet, a French designer based in Strasbourg. As stated on her website, “she cooks up many and various projects in the realms of food design, scenography and objects. She is continually searching for ways to light up everyday life with her eclectic, sometimes acidic, but always tasty ingredients.”
Why is the sense of play and interaction so important to you in your work?
For me, eating moments are mostly related to a connection with others: members of your family, friends, colleagues but also strangers you meet at a wedding or in a local restaurant at lunch time. It’s quite rare to eat alone. So my research often revolves very naturally around these shared moments. Together we are also stronger in the sense that our thoughts feed each other. Creating experiences that spark connections and exchanges like this is really interesting for me, especially to see what will come out of them!
In my project Let’s Play, the waiter and the guest must play together in order for the guest to eat. I created a serving platter that also becomes a board game. Both individuals are compelled to connect, have a short exchange, maybe even flirt and then eat. Eating and food then becomes a memorable moment and not just something that goes through your body and into your stomach. If we give food the important and powerful place it should have, it will then become more meaningful and we will respect it more. In turn, this will result in behaviours like creating less food waste and less mindless bulk buying.
What connection do you find between objects and food?
Objects, the environment or even the ambient sounds can contribute to making a meal convivial, boring, joyful, festive or horrible! You can have the best food in the world in your plate and be in great company, but if the space is cold, the service is stressful and the atmosphere noisy, the moment will be spoiled. My aim is to make these moments the most interesting, lively and enjoyable possible. Even if I just serve crisps! I am not a cook. I am a designer and my job is to make everyday situations more fun. And this doesn’t mean serving lobster at my events. Even if, of course, lobster is something that could make a normal day better ha ha! My focus is to work around everything that centres around food, all the meanings and messages that are implicated. Objects, the environment and surroundings as well as sounds all contribute to communicating these messages.
"Design is also here to bring sense in our lives, through humour, poetry, observations, history…"
What is the purpose and meaning of design according to you?
The purpose of design is to improve our daily lives, in many shapes and forms. And this is what pleases me. In France we always associate design with objects. But design is not only this. Everything else must connect to make sense of the idea we are defending, to communicate messages. Design is also here to bring sense in our lives, through humour, poetry, observations, history… When I worked on Back to Wild State, I thought of a playful way to make us think about our meat consumption.
You work is very colourful, and you frequently play with textures in food. Where do you go to find sources of inspiration for this?
In my opinion, food is a material like any other… but we’ve always been told not to play with our food! It can be sculpted like wood, moulded like porcelain, melted like metal and hardened like glass. By taking it elsewhere, by carving it, shaping it and presenting it in a way that has never been done yet, our imagination can wander. I enjoy bringing in dreamy moments into our daily lives, probably because I’m a very dreamy person. My sources of imagination are everywhere and everything! My sense of observation, probably and notably due to my education at the Beaux Arts, has always made me look at things in a more creative and sensory way.
I use colour when it’s necessary for a project. For example, for Playful Cake the idea was to make children eat things they wouldn’t normally eat by themselves, like a nettle cake or a carrot cake. It becomes very colourful in order to appeal to the children during this edible game.
You recently went to China for a 6 week residency at the International Studio in Jingdezhen. How was it to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar culture and to work in a new environment?
Going away without going far can also be very resourceful! It allows the brain to “reset” instantly. We erase everything and start again fresh. Meeting and connecting with others is a great source of inspiration. Human nature, urban and rural landscapes are all so varied that if you are ever short of inspiration, simply escape for a week and everything will be fresh in your mind. I grew up in Manila in the Philippines for 10 years and studied in Egypt. Since then, this hunger for travel and meeting people has never left me.
China is an extraordinary country, where the pressures of tradition are still strong. I thought about this a lot during the project “When tradition becomes fun” as well as for “Inventory of the blue”. I also created a porcelain “fève” for French pâtissiers in China. Using local knowledge we returned meaning to “galettes des rois” (a sweet French tradition), because some children don’t even know where this came from originally! We used to use a real “fève” (broad bean), dried of course, inside the pastry but now a lot of bakers use porcelain figures and small objects, it seems we have all forgotten about it, but I am here to revive this!
How do you feel things have changed in the world of food design since you first started?
This year marks 15 years since I first started! There has been a huge leap in the way we think about food. It’s great because its an area that is in touch with so many essential things to do with balancing our lifestyles as well as the planet’s, which was very needed! However, some things are going very slowly on the political side (banning plastic in supermarkets, more organic produce in schools, government help for non-industrial agriculture etc…)
The more designers show our solid research on these questions, the more change will happen. I am optimistic about the current evolution and I try my best to talk about these topics in any way I can. I will soon be displaying the research done by various designers about these specific issues, at a touring exhibition between Strasbourg (european capital), and other cities. This will even include real solutions to take action in the near future. Fingers crossed for more changes soon!
Interview with Sonia Verguet by our Food & Experience corespondent Maud de Rohan Willner.