Chocolat de Voyage

Background: In the summer of 2012, I had taken a summer intensive that was co-hosted by Emilie Baltz for SVA in the south of France. When I learned that Emilie—along with designer Marc Bretillot—would be hosting another summer course in 2013 concentrating on food design, I was intrigued. While I’m by no means a “foodie”, I was interested in the universality and total design of food. It is one of the few areas that engages nearly all of the senses, and to be asked to design for such an all-encompassing domain seemed like a nice challenge.

Brief: Upon arriving in Reims, France, we were given the brief of re-imagining the French concept of the gâteaux de voyage (or travel cakes). For those that—like me—had never heard of the concept, travel cakes are essentially sweet breads (think banana bread or pound cake) that can keep for about a week, and can be easily packaged & transported (hence the “travel” bit). This re-imagining was meant to be more of a jumping off point; by no means were we meant to keep strictly to the form of a cake (which, as you’ll see, I plainly didn’t).

First Steps: I had come into the program with an idea about the multi-sensory aspect of food and eating—taste as it links to texture, sight, sound, memory, etc.—and really wanted to run that to ground. Starting on paper, I began by sketching out several concepts around the ideas of sharing and experiences. Being typographically inclined, one idea was that of punctuation: perhaps these cakes could take the form of typical punctuation marks that would denote a certain memory you would want to capture and even share. A cake designed as a semi-colon, for instance, could denote a pause in your day that you’d like to remember; the taste would work to further link that moment to your memory. Furthermore, owing to the forms of punctuation marks—which usually have more than one graphic element—you could share such a moment with another person.

Refinement: While the Punctuation Cakes were a promising idea, they didn’t necessarily work universally; every culture uses each mark a little bit differently, and the Latin script is exclusionary to those that write in other scripts. As a result, I took the idea of linking up taste and texture to memory and began thinking more in the abstract. During some of my research, I became acquainted with the Bouba/kiki effect, in which researchers noticed that sounds and shapes are mapped quite universally across different cultures: nearly every person on the planet, regardless of culture or context, maps “sharp” and “round” sounds with similar corresponding graphemes.

With this in hand, I brought back in the idea of capturing moments throughout your day with taste and texture. I drew up a list of core emotions—Happiness, Pause, Anger, Thinking, and Notation/Reminder—and began sketching abstract shapes that corresponded to each. And in the interest of cross-culturalism, I pinged my fellow coursemates—who represented 6 different countries—to get their feedback on how they would visualize these emotions.

Since I would now be working with multiple forms, cakes wouldn’t really fit the bill—I needed a medium that would be quick & easy to work with. Chocolate seemed to be a nice (and tasty!) solution. Armed with formal feedback as well as knowledge of my medium, I finalized the forms and began rendering them in 3D; the resulting 3D prints would then be used to produce vacuform molds.

The final forms, and their explanations, are as follows:

Happiness: smile-shaped with a low-to-high cross-section
Notation: rectangular with a rounded & spiked middle section
Anger: triangular with a zig-zagged cross-section
Thinking: serpentine-shaped with an undulating, wave-like cross-section
Pause: circular with a series of lines grouped in threes (meant to be seen as ellipsis in section)

Making: Molding chocolate is a much more delicate process than I imagined. Alas, after several attempts at tempering and pouring the molds myself, I had to cede that aspect of the production to George, one of ESAD’s fantastic culinary instructors.

While the texture of each piece would be dictated by the shape, the taste was something that I didn’t have enough time to fully explore. I had it down on paper that each emotion would have a very specific taste ascribed to it, but there wasn’t enough time in the workshop to work out all the details of how to implement these variations. Had time allowed, this is what the taste profiles would have been like:

Happiness: dark chocolate with a caramel fill
Notation: white chocolate with lemon zest
Anger: dark chocolate with hazelnuts & chili powder
Thinking: milk chocolate with coffee
Pause: white chocolate with dried strawberries (meant to be chewy & contemplative)

As I took one of the molds back from the workshop, I hope to experiment further to realize some of the taste combinations. As far as the workshop went, though, all that was left was to design & laser-cut a container to hold them all, and enjoy!