Making is surviving
Try survival food and rediscover your true nature
Nothing beats a shared meal when it comes to creating a bond between people, and this is also true when we pretend to be in survival mode. While I was serving our guests at the popup survival restaurant “Terre & Feu” in Boisbuchet, I realized that creating a moment to remember is as easy as sitting in a circle around a fire and eating grasshoppers on plantain leaves under a canopy of trees.
Le Domaine de Boisbuchet is one of these special places on the planet where design professionals and design students come together and take the time to work on new challenges. Its summer workshops have been taking place for over 20 years.
Boisbuchet is famous for its architectural projects, which leave their mark in the shape of buildings of very different shapes and structures on the Domaine. 2014 laureate of the Pritzker Prise, Shigeru Ban, built his first European building on this site. It is on these grounds that architect Simon Velez built his first permanent bamboo houses.
Stepping out of time
„Ô temps, suspends ton vol…“
this exclamation from Lamartine in his poem „Le lac“ fits Boisbuchet perfectly. Spending a week here is like going to a place where only imagination, design and making matter, all other concerns suspended for the time being.
For the Survival Food workshop with Katja Gruijters, which was held for the third time, we deliberately stepped out of modern times to enter a state in which we could only cook and eat what we would be able to find, catch or forage on the Domaine itself — at least for our design work.
Our group comprised a chef as well as grafic, industrial, event and food designers, business people and also my 9 years old son. It turned out he was able to enjoy many aspects of the workshop. He was also the only participant suspecting that we would indeed only sustain ourselves from our foraging, hunting and fishing. The set objective of the workshop was to create a three star pop-up restaurant for a meal with all the week’s participants and staff at Boisbuchet, using only plants, fruits, fish, meat we would have found and captured on the Domaine. Preparation and presentation should as much as possible rely on natural resources.
Knowledge as survival skill
In the course of the week, we went through the steps of a design process, including learning about the resources through exploration and expert interviews, trying out new edibles, exploring the options for food gathering, preparation and presentation. The initial quest for edible plants made me feel like a very inadequate inhabitant of this Domaine. According to our self-chosen definition, survival food would be “eating like animals do”. On a matter as elementary as food gathering, learning to distinguish the safe from the dangerous felt like a real priority. Thankfully, the Domaine is able to support any sort of design endeavour, in this case Adrien, who leads the material workshops, proved to be a very fine connaisseur of the local flora.
I have written before about my experience of writing a cookbook for my family. The project there had been to collect recipes on the basis of memories of the people. While foraging for edible plants in Boisbuchet, some of us where reminded of almost forgotten wisdom and previous experience of preparing food using wild fruits and flowers, eliciting a stronger sense of self-competence in this otherwise rarely travelled area of expertise. The smells of elder blossom cakes and blackberry jam brought back some fond memories.
Daily discoveries about what we were able to source — fish, plant or insects — fueled our imagination and we continuously created new dishes, drinks and decoration or presentation materials. Here are a few elements of the experience we created for a short time at our three star survival restaurant “Terre & Feu”.
The soap flower was used to wash hands at the entrance of the restaurant “Terre & Feu”,
Bamboo is core to Boisbuchet and found many uses at restaurant “Terre & Feu”, both at the fireplace, to present sweet asian-style baozi buns and to serve drinks. The logo of “Terre & Feu”was also painted on tags on the woven grass mats used as plates.
The decision had been made early on to use a fire place as the center of the restaurant, where fish and vegetables would be hung for cooking and presentation. Getting hold of protein proved the biggest challenge for survival.
Catching the grasshoppers had required the dexterity of the kids, before we could serve them on plantain leaves with blackberry jam.
Made for sharing
At the end of the day, we did not use the catapult to get food. But we rediscovered burried knowledge and techniques, acquired new skills and applied our creative cooking energy to plants and animals we otherwise would have neglected. We found alternative usage to materials, making and cooking with natural energy and materials. Best of all, we were able to put together a strong emotional moment of sharing in the middle of the forest, under the canopy of the trees of Boisbuchet, the place where witches used to be burnt.