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Expanding Horizons

January 26, 2010

Paris. Monday.

Welcome to the busiest day of the show – crowds, if anything, have been increasing, attendance reaching a fever pitch.

One reason may well be an event that has long intrigued and impressed me: namely the integration of cuisine into Maison & Objet as part of its mantra to celebrate all parts of the Art of Living. That’s not limited to design or decor but assuredly includes the pleasure we take in food, its creation, its presentation and, ultimately, its satisfaction.

Monday marks the annual return, of “Paris des Chefs,” an event organized in collaboration with Omnivore for the general public running parallel to the main show. The idea is to put 12 chefs and 12 designers on the same stage providing a springboard for a shared vision of elegance and taste, thereby creating an opportunity to discover and better understand the place of cooking in our culture today and in our everyday lives. For two days, 500 people can attend an open discussion between chefs and designers. The encounters are broadcast live on a giant screen in the "La Table" sector.

Paris des Chefs is the result of recognizing the obvious, namely that designers and chefs, each in their own way, stir up ideas and generate trends which in their most ambitious and modern forms have everything in common with each other and the Living Arts, including fashion, home design and decor. Continuously innovating, all of the above in turn influence the creation of new restaurants, new concepts boutiques and the foods we eat and their presentation.

On the basic assumption and growing evidence that people are ready and willing to spend more money to eat better and healthier, Paris des Chefs also advocates cooking organic foods in green dishes. The search for healthier foods inspired 100% ecological products in cooking utensils and dishes in which we prepare our foods. The alphabet soup of BTFE and PFOAQ, synonyms for harmful plastic surfaces common in our non-stick pans have been banished and replaced with BEKA, a ceramics surface.

The question of whether gourmet pleasures are part of art de vivre is answered in the Histoire de Gouts (History of Taste) section with an inspired selection in which flavors play the lead role. At a time when the differences between cosmetics, fragrance and food are growing ever narrower, mealtime can be a transformative experience with moments of real discoveries and stunning surprises.

Long ago, fragrance and cosmetics started to borrow ingredients from the food sector: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, grapefruit, ginger are just a few that come to mind. Now it is food’s turn to borrow back. And not just ingredients but packaging as well. Skillfully scented mustards and oils become gourmet gifts to be shared by fragrance and food lovers alike. The high fashion collection of Chateau d’Estoublon presents a bottle reminiscent of those used for high-end fragrances. Teas at Dammam Freres are packaged in precious boxes, and the best leaves at the Japanese Jugesudo brand are wrapped in a mix of Far Eastern materials and patterns.

There is even a taste and perfume designer, Michele Gay, who translates the materials, vocabulary and techniques of perfumery into the kitchen. Her compositions are a testament to an inventive culinary language in which taste and smell combine in a universal principle of gourmandise.

In talking about food, I would be remiss not to mention a new invention introduced by the much lauded concept shop, Le Laboratoire, which describes itself as "at the frontiers of science," today with the invention named "Le Whif" and "le Whaf," a two-part combination aerosol cuisine delivery system.

Imagine a cloud of flavors emanating from a glass globe. Now imagine inhaling this cloud. And there you have it. According to David Edwards, the designer, you have just tested, tasted (and hopefully enjoyed) whaffing your food. Sort of like foreplay without the payoff.

My experience has been that if I whiff or whaf, whichever it may be, an especially delectable food, I want to eat it, not just inhale it. No way am I going to settle for empty promises.

On the safe assumption that most people would have similar responses to delicious food smells, I can’t see much application for this invention, except, perhaps for food promotions.

On the more serious side, scientists are looking at ways to make fine-particle, breathable aerosol sprays, for the purpose of administering medical drugs to human lungs to combat respiratory infections. I could use a whaf or two right now having suffered a respiratory infection for the past week.

On the other hand, another invention, called Muse-Trek promises to have a bright future by correlating interaction between objects and those who view them. An iPhone like device, when pointed at a specific object in an exhibition, narrates the object. In some cases, film is added. MuseTrek is a new interactive technology developed by a talented group of young American and French creators, a post-Google generation which helps us learn and innovate with free access to information. This new culture technology was launched last October with partners such as the Cite de Sciences, the Pompidou Center and the French Decorative Arts Museum.

Beats bulky audio guides by a mile. No word yet if narration is by Meryl Streep, George Clooney or Philippe de Montebello. And if the App is not on your iPhone yet, it soon will or should be.