Olafur Eliasson's studio in a former, renovated brewery in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district is known for its vastness and for employing around 90 people. What is less well known is the fact that everybody at the studio, plus any visitors, lunches together every day at a very long table.
The studio has a garden for growing fruits and vegetables on its roof, and the kitchen has four full-time members of staff to cook the mainly vegetarian meals. All this is documented in the new sumptuous book, Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen, published by Phaidon. It chronicles how the kitchen brings together the artists, architects, craftsmen, technicians, historians and archivists working in the studio's diverse activities and how eating together is an occasion for sharing ideas. This has enabled Eliasson to foster a collaborative, community spirit in his studio. There's a washing-up rota so people take it in turns to do the dishes.
The inception of the kitchen harks back 13 years ago when studio members would take turns cooking for the rest of the team, which then numbered 15 people. In 2005, Eliasson – whose studio was growing rapidly – hired Asako Iwama as a full-time cook and six months later employed Lauren Maurer to assist her. (Iwama having since resigned, it is Maurer who leads the kitchen today.) Together the two would make mainly vegetarian meals, using ingredients from the fruit-and-vegetable garden as well as deliveries from an organic farm just outside Berlin. Among the wholesome recipes are Tuscan kale risotto with mushrooms and rosemary, Miso soup with mixed brown and black rise balls and seaweed and cucumber, baked eggplant, and carrot cake. Respected chefs, such as Alice Waters, Angelo Garro, Camilla Plum and René Redzepi have all come to cook.
The kitchen has “become a coproducer of many events”, says Eliasson. Referring to the 'Life Is Space' symposia (a series of daylong events held on four occasions since 2006), he writes that “the shared meals and coffee breaks are as important as the diverse performances, experiments and community thinking that take place there”. Indeed, the kitchen, like the rest of Eliasson's studio, is geared towards intellectual debate, creativity and cohesiveness. As Eliasson writes in his introduction, “Cooking is caring for others.”
The beautifully designed book is an eye-opener to the dynamics of the studio and includes dozens of tasty, healthy, easy-to-follow recipes that shouldn't blow the food budget.
Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen, foreword by Alice Waters, is published by Phaidon.