When you eat vegetarian, do you see an empty spot on your plate?
If you grew up—as I did—grudgingly picking at the obligatory vegetables that garnished the evening’s meat and potatoes, an all-veggie meal has some serious cultural baggage to overcome. Through family dinners, church socials and neighborhood potlucks, we’re taught that supper is a piece of meat with two sides. The idea is so commonplace that we’ve even designed paper plates to the proper proportions.
Call it the “Chinet” approach to meal planning.
So what do you do with that big section of the compartment plate when you’re no longer working with meat? Is it a hole to be filled? Or an invitation to creativity?
These are the questions that animate De Culinaire Werkplaats (The Culinary Workshop), a conceptual test-kitchen in Amsterdam’s rejuvenated Westerpark neighborhood. Half design studio, half restaurant, it seeks to shake up visitors’ culinary lifestyle by redefining not just vegetarian cuisine, but by exploring the creative possibilities of food.
Where many vegetarian restaurants attempt to recreate the flavors and forms of traditional meals, De Culinaire Werkplaats seeks to create entirely new experiences by drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources—from fashion to farmland, art to architecture. A springtime menu modeled dishes on the landscape of The Netherlands’ countryside; this week, a visitor can enjoy plates suggested by a visit to Shanghai. Cabbages, beans and water chestnut tumble together in the “Shanghai Laundry;” ask for “The Man in his PJs,” and you’ll get a dessert of dim sum, chocolate and tapioca.
And food is only part of the experiment. Founders Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing have crafted wearable fashion from edible fabrics, produced vegetable and fruit papers and put on conceptual art projects. Even the bill challenges convention: while the drink card is traditionally priced, it’s up to you to decide what a fair value is for the five-course fixed menu.
Taken together, these experiments offer a refreshing approach to the challenge of living in a world limited resources: in the process of creating a new culinary language, De Culinaire Werkplaats are showing how imagination can fill an empty plate.
Learn more, and check out the week’s menu, at deculinairewerkplaats.nl. Open Friday for dinner, Saturday for Lunch and Dinner.