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A feast for the eyes: Spanish food and design

Staff writer

In one glass case at the just-opened “Tapas: Spanish Design for Food,” a white dessert plate isn’t what it appears.

Created by a pastry chef at the renowned El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain, the silicone bowl looks like a ball of fermenting dough. A battery mechanism inside causes the bowl to move, making viewers believe they’re watching dough rise.

Humor is a good attribute to bring to the 8,000-square-foot exhibit, which explores the relationship between design and Spanish cuisine. It’s on display through Dec. 15 at the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District.

Curated by Spanish architect Juli Capella, the show is sponsored by the government of Spain’s Acción Cultural Española, which promotes Spanish culture and heritage, as well as the Centro Cultural Español en Miami, SPAIN Arts and Culture and the España Florida Foundation. It’s timed to the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida.

Whether we realize it or not, design is on constant display at our dinner tables.

“Eating is something we do every day. But we don’t pay attention to the object in our table,” Cappella says in an interview. “Man picked an apple, but when he started to cook with fire, that’s when design started.” We needed bowls to cook and transport our food.

The exhibit is divided into three sections: the Kitchen, the Table and the Food. Designs by chefs, designers, architects and artists is on display. It goes way beyond the tapas of its title.

The simplest example of Spanish food design is the olive, whereby a simple green fruit is stuffed with a piece of red pepper. But design is everywhere in Spanish cuisine, from the star-shaped extruders that create churros to wine bottles that show the revolution in label design.

Capella focuses the objects in the show on the modernist Spanish cuisine of the past 30 years, exemplified by chef Ferran Adrià, considered one of the best chefs in the world for his work at elBulli restaurant, which closed two years ago.

Adrià worked with industrial designers to create serving dishes that matched the ingenuity of his cuisine. Thin, opal glass plates mimic the sea and waves. Another glass plate looks like a crumpled napkin. A black, opal glass plate features the imprint of a fish bone. There are green glass plates that look like cactus leaves, shiny stainless steel vessels for petits fours and a bowl made from old coffee grounds. Even Lladró, which traditionally makes collectible porcelain figurines, is making stark, white plates featuring realistic parrots.

The Washington, D.C.-based chef José Andrés, who operates the Bazaar in Miami Beach, is represented by a table-soccer game that’s topped with thick glass and used as a dining table.

The exhibit allows viewers to see the evolution of simple Spanish-made objects. Stands meant to hold bone-on ham go from simple metal to sleek aluminum. A goat skin wine flask morphs into an energy drink container. Paella pans are on display, but so are two Spanish inventions of common kitchen utensils: the pressure cooker and the immersion or stick blender.

The hardest part of the exhibit is not being able to buy the objects on display. But as Capella points out, the show celebrates Spanish culture, and not commerce.

“Tapas: Spanish Design for Food” will run through Dec. 15 at the Moore Building, 4040 NE Second Ave., in Miami. Exhibit hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon-7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Films, workshops and lectures by chefs José Andrés, Michelle Bernstein and Maricel Presilla are also featured. Go to CCEMiami.org.

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