Eating is one of the most fundamental human needs. Over the years, however, it has developed into an intricate daily ritual.
Bringing together family and friends and giving them a space to talk and reflect on their day, mealtimes are much more than a mere necessity for survival. Influenced by a variety of factors—from childhood upbringing to cultural background, the time of the year to fashion and developments in interior design, such as the contemporary shift towards open plan living spaces opposed to separate kitchens and dining rooms—there is no one set way to consume food, or to organise the space in which you consume it.
One of most the recent factors that has influenced dining habits around the world is the global coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, new government regulations forced restaurants to close, and many of us to quarantine ourselves in our homes, leaving only for essential reasons such as food shopping and a daily dose of fresh air and exercise. As a result, many of us found ourselves eating at home with our immediate families, giving more time and attention to what and how we ate than we usually would have during our hectic everyday lives. While this may be seen as positive development, restrictions prohibiting large groups coming together also meant that we weren’t allowed to share our new found approach to dining with our loved ones living in different households—unless you count virtual dinner dates conducted via Zoom.
This article was produced in collaboration with design and furniture company MADE.COM, inline with our joint dinner at the beginning of October 2020. Celebrating the launch of their latest collection, the event prompted conversations around developments in contemporary dining habits.
“Dining is an especially immersive experience for everyone. The look and feel of a space, the flow, and the light all play a part in your meal.”
With this in mind, when restrictions eased, Friends of Friends was delighted to plan its first event of 2020 at the beginning of October. Bringing together a few members of our community for a small, socially distanced dinner, the event—hosted at our Kreuzberg events space—was produced in collaboration with design and furniture brand MADE.COM. Disparate yet complimenting pieces from MADE’s latest collection, titled ‘Dinner Dates,’ set the perfect stage for members of our close-knit community to reunite after many months apart, and enjoy a three course, plant-based dinner prepared in front of their eyes by Dylan Watson-Brown, founder and head chef at Berlin’s Ernst restaurant. Each course was also complimented by a unique sake pairing picked out by Richie Hawtin of Kreuzberg-based Japanese sake importer, Sake 36. While sake may seem like an unexpected choice to pair with Watson-Brown’s menu, the concept of mixing and matching different elements perfectly reflects the inspiration behind MADE’s collection, and, according to one of our guests, make up and styling agency founder Nina Klein, reflects the different energies and personalities of the people that came together for the dinner.
While enjoying the dinner and company of old and new friends, conversations drifted onto the topic of contemporary dining habits, and how, after large world changes, we each approach eating at home with our family and friends—a particularly prevalent topic as Christmas approaches. Below, we’ve summarized some of these over the table conversations, focusing on insights from our good friends space and set designer Ruth Bartlett and product designer Craig Barrow.
Do you think aesthetics and your surrounding environment influence your experience of food and dining?
Ruth Bartlett: As someone who spends all day immersed in the visual world, aesthetics influence how I experience all parts of my life. I think dining is an especially immersive experience for everyone. The look and feel of a space, the flow, and the light all play a part in your meal. I’m quite light and noise sensitive. Because of this, there are some places I just can’t imagine enjoying a meal, no matter how good it tastes.
Craig Barrow: That’s why everyone likes a nice restaurant or a nice setting. The food is just a small element of it. It’s all about the ambience and the objects around you. As a product designer I’m always interested in what people and restaurants choose to put on their tables: what sort of cutlery and glasses they use for example. I’m always one for plates. I find myself looking underneath them to see where they’re from.
Where do you eat at home?
CB: My girlfriend and I have a big table in our flat that is the centerpiece of the main room. We eat there most of the time. I also like to eat outside as much as possible. We have a balcony which we really try to take care of. Every year we clean it, paint it, and decorate it with flowers. I don’t even mind sitting outside the middle of the winter, as long as I’ve got a coat and a jacket! Being outside in a green space or garden is obviously nice because you’re in nature, but I also like being out by a street or even a main road. I enjoy the buzz of things happening, watching people walking past, and feeling different energies.
RB: For me, home cooking is all about friends and family. Setting the table with an array of dishes, picking out napkins, an aperitivo, and snacks while we prep in the kitchen as people arrive all influence my enjoyment of the occasion. I love having an excuse to get out lots of different glassware for different beverages or stages of the meal.
“You can cook and eat in 20 minutes or you can make the whole thing last two hours. This can really help you to take your mind off external stresses.”
Is your dining set up influenced by your upbringing?
RB: I’m half Jamaican, was brought up in England, live in Berlin, and am in a relationship with an American, but I think in terms of the way I arrange a table and the structure of a meal, I’m mostly influenced by Italian dining culture. I also think my English grandparents influenced me in the care and attention they paid to setting the table and having everything looking nice before we arrived at their home. They would always send us home with a wicker basket full of homemade treats and flowers from the garden. I guess that’s washed off on me too: I’m always sending people home after dinner with plants I’ve grown.
CB: My parents were always very insistent that we would sit round and have dinner together, that it lasted a certain amount of time, and that we talked. As a kid this was annoying cause we just wanted to get back to whatever we were doing. But it’s definitely stuck with me. During the coronavirus lockdown, it’s been especially nice to spend more time cooking and eating. You can cook and eat in 20 minutes or you can make the whole thing last two hours. This can really help you to take your mind off external stresses. I always remember when I was in my final year of university, I would be working the workshops until they closed. Then I would have to come home and eat something. It was as if, every day, you have this one moment where you’re forced to slow down. It’s a nice way to switch off.
Are there any other ways your dining habits changed during the quarantine period?
RB: I planned to renovate the kitchen this year, but that got put on hold while I focused on steering my business through the pandemic. I have a lot of friends who own restaurants that I wanted to continue to support as much as possible, so there was plenty of take out as well as eating out when it became possible. Morale is such an important factor in the often exhausting day to day of running a food business, so for me it was super important to be physically present in support of these small businesses in our local community. Quarantine was also a great time to expand my portfolio of “weeknight” dishes: it pushed me to experiment in the kitchen more than in recent years. I learnt to make Okonomiyaki and finally got my head around making classic dill pickles which made me so happy! This being said, I also found myself worn down more often by day-to-day activities, so the comfort of couch eating definitely became more regular. I guess only time will tell if that sticks long term or if it’s just a simple coping mechanism.
“Eating and dining is less of a necessity for living, it’s more about the ritual nature of it.”
MADE’s latest collection, ‘Dinner Dates,’ focuses on the concept of mixing and matching different elements together, whether this be different tables, chairs, or even cutlery. Is this a concept that is interesting to you in your life and work?
CB: I’ve always had a mix and match approach to the interior aesthetic of my home. I like bringing together things in different styles, shapes, forms, and colors. Having different objects and furniture also allows you to change spaces and rearrange them easily. Outside of the home, it’s nice to see restaurants that change their interiors a lot. I worked on two restaurant projects back in the UK. One of them had a really set idea of how they wanted things to be, whereas the other wanted a space that they could adapt quite regularly. When I went back to visit them, the first was always the same. It got a bit boring. But every time I went to the second one, it was as if it was a different space. It was really nice to see it evolve over time.
Are there any recent cultural shifts—aside from coronavirus—that you think have changed our approach to eating at home?
RB: The pandemic has induced such an overbearing cultural shift that’s coloring everything. Whether that’s taking more care and time to eat well at home—in terms of cooking as well as the items we use to dine—or re-arranging public dining spaces to stay in alignment with restriction updates, I don’t think I can see anything influencing our behaviour without a side order of corona.
CB: I feel like dining is a lot more informal now than it used to be. What is really nice here at the MADE.com dinner is that the kitchen is open, you can talk to the chefs and see what they’re doing. It’s nice to know where the food is coming from and how it’s prepared. It’s the same when you go for dinner at a friend’s house: you don’t want to arrive and the food be ready. It’s nice when they’re cooking, you’re chatting, and everyone helps out. That’s the best way to do it. Eating and dining is less of a necessity for living, it’s more about the ritual nature of it. It’s easy too, especially at home. You don’t need loads of money to cook a nice meal with some friends.
This article was produced in collaboration with design and furniture company MADE.COM, inline with our joint dinner at the beginning of October 2020. Celebrating the launch of their latest collection, the event prompted conversations around developments in contemporary dining habits, you can read more on the event here. To find out about MADE, head over to their website, or follow them on Instagram.
Text: FvF Team
Photography: Marzena Skubatz