When Marije Vogelzang throws one of her high-concept dinner parties, guests never know quite what to expect—except that she’ll come up with a radical approach that is certain to challenge accepted ideas about food and social interaction. She might attach all the wineglasses in the room together in one giant web, or "tattoo" pieces of food with provocative words like "energy" and "good for memory," or host a formal banquet in a field amid cows and wildflowers. Since Vogelzang launched her restaurant Proef in Rotterdam three years ago (with a new branch in Amsterdam last fall), the 29-year-old self-described "food designer" has won a cult following. Vogelzang, a graduate of the Netherlands’s prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven, says her goal is to "tell stories about food, so I use design as a tool." She has an impressive coterie of collaborators, including influential Dutch designers like Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerius and Jurgen Bey.
Some of Vogelzang’s ideas are starkly literal. For instance, she once crafted guns out of sugar "to make visual what sugar can do to you." Other concepts are highly abstract, like the ones employed in the now-legendary holiday dinner she threw for the famous Dutch design collective Droog in 2005. For that party, Vogelzang riffed on the idea of sharing—in a way that dispensed with holiday cliché. She hung a tablecloth from the ceiling and poked holes in it for guests to stick their heads and arms through—"to connect everyone," she says. Vogelzang, a passionate supporter of local farmers, served different main courses to her guests: Some got roasted pork, others wild mushrooms with spring-onion gravy, and others a broiled pumpkin stuffed with seasoned nuts or sautéed potatoes with fresh herb cream. "Immediately, people started cutting up their food and sharing it and trying different things," says Vogelzang. By being forced to trade some of their food with others in order to compose a meal, guests paid closer attention to the ingredients on their plates—all sustainably raised from local farms.
Guests were encouraged to cut away the tablecloth with scissors as they ate. "Most of the guests didn’t know each other when they arrived," Vogelzang said, "but soon they bonded over the rebellious experience of cutting up the cloth."