Whereas early-20th-century Modernist architects promoted lifestyles of comfort and convenience through masterplans and manifestos that encouraged the domestication of nature, chefs of the early 21st century are reconnecting us with its wonders and benefits. It turns out the highly controlled atmospheres and assertive structures we have built for ourselves were just façades, and our actual environments are more fragile and necessary to our survival than we had believed. The sterile and abundantly stocked lanes of the supermarket, lined with foods grown and processed in distant factories, have steadily disconnected us from nature and the beauty of life itself. The industrial processes that were supposed to create inexpensive, healthy, and abundant foods have instead yielded increasing social disparity, food waste, obesity, and harm to our environment.
The agency that was once bestowed upon architects to tell us how to live, shop, work, travel, and lead happy and fulfilling lives now seems to have shifted toward chefs. As we look toward the future, new manifestos and masterplans drafted around food production and consumption are necessary, as societies will be based on a deeper understanding of the climates, patterns, and flavors of the world we live in. It is no surprise that the next generation of chefs has mobilized, sublimating traditions and championing causes—sustainability, healthy lifestyles, social equity—to fix the issues we are facing. Movements such as the “New Nordic Cuisine” herald a rediscovery of our roots through food, turning cooking into a powerful cultural, social, and political act—from soup kitchens to high-end restaurants.
Chefs advocating for local food consumption have spurred the proliferation of farmers markets and stimulated new economies and habits for city dwellers, from app-based food delivery services to urban farming. A new wave of young farmers and producers engage with the media, and with venture capitalists, and go on lecture tours in universities to discuss the future of the food industry. Fields once considered distant from any intellectual pursuit, such as cooking, are taking academia by storm, creating interdisciplinary and experimental research and activity. Restaurants and cookbooks have become the new vehicles for discovering cultures for locals and tourists alike. Simultaneously, the once rigid guidelines and hierarchical floor plans of the workplace are being replaced by more casual and informal interactions around eating, and the well-being of employees is valued as a foundation for their performance, creativity, and collaboration.
With the proliferation of digital technologies that challenge notions of place and time, we understand more than ever the ephemerality of a chance encounter, of a pastry eaten spontaneously one afternoon in the street, as being meaningful in our creative process and urban experience. Engaging with our senses, with our minds, and being confronted by unexpected flavors, textures, and ideas are essential to keeping us alive and connected—to each other and to our environment. It drives us toward a healthier, harmonious, and more diverse future. As such, the architectures one finds assembled on a plate, lasting but a moment, are more symbolic of our contemporary lifestyles, speaking to the challenges we face—transient and ever changing—than the rigid structures that surround us.