Tapas: Spanish Design for Food

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Spaniards are some of the world’s leading innovators when it comes to mixing high design with haute cuisine. Ferran Adria’s elBulli, after all, was a mecca for foodies everywhere. And our very own Jose Andres, who introduced DC to molecular gastronomy with minibar, has raised food (in the forms of shape, scent, smoke, foam—you name it) to a high art.

It’s no wonder, then, that Andres was the chef advisor for an exhibit at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain on 16th Street NW called TAPAS. Spanish Design for Food, which explores the intersection of, well, design and food!

Designer and architect Juli Capella curated the show, which was organized by Accion Cultural Espanola and SPAIN arts & culture, the Spanish Embassy's cultural arm in the United States.

Designer and architect Juli Capella curated the show, which was organized by Accion Cultural Espanola and SPAIN arts & culture, the Spanish Embassy’s cultural arm in the United States.

If it looks like Juli’s tie is askew, that’s because it’s not a tie. It’s a napkin designed for grownups! And the glass? Well, makes drinking wine much more efficient, wouldn’t you say?


Juli puts the necktie/napkin to use as he stands in front of a display of gigantic paella pans.

This is what I LOVED about the show. Spanish designers are creating the most whimsical products around food. “There’s a component of playfulness with Spanish artisans—a will to take classic elements and turn them into something else,” said Guillermo Corral, the Spanish Embassy’s cultural counselor here.

Capella explained the title. Tapas, he said, “is a universal concept of food that Spain offers to you. Tapas is not one main dish. It’s a lot of small ones with different flavors, different tastes.”


And as you can see from the graphic, the exhibit gives us all the “tastes” of food design, whether it involves the food itself, tools for preparing and cooking food, or implements to lay on the table.

It’s the most fun exhibit I’ve been to in a long time. Here are some of my favorites:

Ok. Look around town here. Have you EVER seen such a cool food cart?? "Roca on Wheels" aims to bring the old dessert cart back to life.

Ok. Look around town here. Have you EVER seen such a cool food cart?? “Roca on Wheels” aims to bring the old dessert cart back to life.


This contraption makes essentially what we know as Baked Alaska, but better: Put ice cream in between two slices of brioche, put it into this nifty little press, and voila — a gorgeous dessert.

And while we’re on the subject of bread—

Why let the crumbs go to waste? This contraption can hook a spout that would (I suppose) go through your kitchen wall to the outside, where the birds can enjoy the leftovers from your loaf.


Ok. Why don’t more people design vessels that are adaptive to the foods they will contain? Like soup bowls you can drink from, or cups for milk with an extended slot so you can slide a cookie into it—genius! (you can clearly tell the photos that I took vs. the ones provided by the Embassy, but I digress…)


Why buy separate coffee mugs and espresso cups, when one container can do both? I also love the spout you can slide onto a water bottle to turn it into a pitcher. So simple/ so smart.


And this is truly a miracle. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be blind, and reach into the fridge and feel a bunch of cans and cartons? Which is which? These markers that strap onto the containers will tell you.


This one I love for personal reasons. My husband has collected wine corks since before I knew him, writing dates and occasions on corks from special nights. Here’s a container that lets you convert that collection into something useful.

Moving on to the food itself—This exhibit celebrates the delight Spain takes in its food and food products:

Who hasn’t had a Chupa Chups?


Even the canned olive is put on a pedestal.

But here’s the coolest thing. I never got the chance to visit elBulli while it was open, but I’d certainly heard enough sermons about the wondrous chemistry that went on there. Here’s a picture of one of their dishes, called “seeds,” which as you can see, is composed like a work of art:


But with a large kitchen staff, how do you reproduce this art IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY night after night? Ferran Adria solved that problem by developing plasticine molds of every ingredient, and creating a “sculpture” for each dish that each person could easily copy when composing the real thing:


Here’s the side-by-side:


Now, if EATING food isn’t your thing,


Make it into furniture! This light was fabricated by molding bread over a steel structure. If you can see the images on the display board, chairs and tables have been made the same way. And there’s also a bread container for a soft boiled egg: rip off a piece and take a dip.

Spain is also a culture that loves the design of a wine bottle as much as it values the wine itself:




They also elevate restaurant design to the same vaunted level—and don’t necessarily think a dining table should be used for only one purpose.

Foosball, anyone?

Foosball, anyone?


Look closely -- there aren't any utensils on this placemat!

Look closely — there aren’t any utensils on this placemat!

Well, I’ve hardly covered a fraction of this exhibit, which is on display through March 23. There are also several programs surrounding the exhibit that are worth catching:

Thursdays, Feb. 6, Feb. 20 and March 6 at 6:30 pm: Film Series on Spanish Cinema & Food (films TBA): SPANISH EMBASSY, 2375 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Saturdays, Feb. 22 and March 15 at 12 pm: Guided tours with designer Douglas Burton of Apartment Zero. Douglas will take you through the exhibit and talk about “the panorama of the avant-garde and top-notch Spanish design as applied to gastronomy.” Click here for more information and to RSVP. 2801 16th St. NW

That’s all for now, but Juli Capella, the curator who also wrote a book surrounding the exhibit, hopes to see you soon!


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