The Culinaire Werkplaats (Culinary Workshop) is an alternative restaurant in Amsterdam. We found it sort of by accident and had dinner there last night. We were very impressed.
They are a sort of food design studio, and incorporate a lot of ideas from fashion and architecture. They are also very environmentally and socially minded, and like to create futuristic meals combining all these ideas. As far as I know, all of their food is vegetarian. Primarily they do business dinner commissions, but they also have a restaurant in Amsterdam, open only on Friday and Saturday, with the goal of trying out their creations on ‘ordinary’ people. The business model of most restaurants in the Netherlands are severely constrained by labor costs, which are somewhat high here. Since the business model of this place is different, it means they can offer food which is pretty much unavailable in the rest of the country.
Dinner starts with a pen and a piece of paper, and by the end of the evening you are expected to have provided a detailed written opinion of the meal. The food is brought to the table and presented, but you are expected to clear the dirty dishes yourself. You also have to fill your own water glass, and since the kitchen is an open part of the restaurant, both these things involve elbowing your way past the chefs in order to get to the sink. This is an intentional part of their philosophy of combining the preparing and eating of the food.
The interior is very clean and functional, but also simple, as are the dishes and cutlery.
Our dinner was 4 main courses, plus a starter and dessert. The food was very high quality, and very nicely prepared and presented. Individual portions were small, but in total was plenty of food. The meal was full of very interesting flavor combinations. I think most readers of this blog would be very satisfied with their choice of ingredients and philosophies. There’s no set price, you simply pay what you want for the meal. If you’re planning costs ahead of time, according to the video above, think in terms of €19-100 per person plus drinks. Reservations are strongly suggested. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Amsterdam.
I posted recently about OHM2013, the computer hacking conference I recently made a presentation on Open Source Food. Earlier that day I also gave a small workshop for children.
It’s an issue in the US for example that many kids, especially in less affluent city centers, sometimes don’t know what real food looks like. Jamie Oliver documented this in the TV series he recently made there. It’s because some kids are so used to eating something out of a box or a slice of pizza, if you show them a vegetable they don’t know what it is. I know from visiting relatives in the US, many kids hardly eat anything except meat, and usually very cheap cuts of meat.
Here in the Netherlands, I don’t think the situation is so serious. Most kids here are used to eating vegetables, and know what they look like. They don’t however know vegetables that aren’t sold in supermarkets, and they aren’t very familiar with dried beans. I brought in some blue potatoes, and they had never seen those before.
I brought some heirloom tomatoes I bought from the local farmers market, together with some fresh herbs (basil, celery leaf herb, cilantro and parley) for tasting. They had never seen heirloom tomatoes before, and were eager to taste and talk about them. There was one kid there who hated normal tomatoes, but like the heirloom tomatoes. I left his mom wondering where she could buy more, because they are not generally available here… The herbs went over pretty well too, and we talked about the different tastes and what they were. Even some of the adults there couldn’t identify them.
After tasting, we went on to the arts and crafts. I gathered all the leftover beans and lentils I could find at home, and bought some more from a farmers market stand that sells them by weight in small quantities. In total I had a few kilos, and one of the organizers also brought in some too. We had some rice, other grains and alphabet soup pasta too. The kids were very disappointed they couldn’t taste the beans! I hadn’t thought to cook any of them.
Here was the results of the arts and crafts project:
Where we started
Okay, we’re cheating a little here. The one in the middle with the house and tree was done by one of the adults… The others were done by children aged 4-7.
Has anyone else done biodiversity projects with children?
Today is the first day of OHM2013 in the Netherlands. Tomorrow (Thursday) I will talk about Open Source Food in Tent 1 at 6pm local time here in Amsterdam, for an hour. It might be possible to watch via a live stream here, or archived videos will be available later.
The general program is here. All events are in English. Lots of great stuff is planned!
At the last event, 4 years ago, Julian Assange spoke and introduced an idea he had called Wikileaks. He’ll speak again this year via a video link from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’s hiding out. Thomas Drake, another American whistle blower will also speak. Expect speakers this time to again present world changing ideas!
The event has it’s own broadcasting license for both TV and radio. The station name is OHMroep, a play on the Dutch word ‘omroep’ which means broadcasting company. See the streams page linked to above if you want to listen in.
This year in the Netherlands will be a technical conference of sorts, called OHM2013. I will attend in order to give a presentation entitled Open Source Food. 3000 tickets are up for sale at €180 each, for a 4 day event. In that time a piece of agricultural land in a remote place in the Netherlands will be transformed into a city powered by diesel generators. Each of those lucky 3000 ticket holders will have purchased the right to be volunteers, and will help set up tents and stages, provide ‘content’ like presentations, cook food and so on. Space for camping will be provided.
The event has it’s roots with a group of computer hackers and a Dutch language magazine published in the 1980s and 90s called Hacktic. The event has become an ‘every 4th year’ tradition, started with the Galactic Hacker Party in 1989. It has evolved in recent years to include free thinkers in almost every field. One of the most striking thing about this event is the level of intelligence many of the participants have. It’s truly a place to go to talk with intelligent people, with expertise you never thought existed.
I was at the first event in 1989, and some of the ones that followed years later. I have not been in 12 years now, so it’ll be interesting to see how it’s changed. I’m told that together with the other presentations, my presentation will be streamed live on the Internet and available for viewing afterwords. I’ll post more information as I have it.
Update 17 July: The program is now online.
In the final Commission draft of the EU seed law is a provision for niche varieties:
Derogations from registration requirements in the case of niche market plant reproductive material
1. Article 14(1) shall not apply to plant reproductive material where all of the following conditions are fulfilled:
(a) it is made available on the market in small quantities by persons other than professional operators, or by professional operators employing no more than ten persons and whose annual turnover or balance sheet total does not exceed EUR 2 million;
(b) it is labelled with the indication ‘niche market material’.
That plant reproductive material is hereinafter referred to as ‘niche market material’.
2. The persons who produce niche market material shall keep records of the quantities of the material produced and made available on the market, per genera, species or type of material. On request, they shall make those records available to the competent authorities.
3. The Commission shall be empowered to adopt delegated acts, in accordance with Article 140, setting out, with regard to the production and making available on the market of niche material belonging to particular genera or species, one or more of the following:
(a) the maximum size of packages, containers or bundles;
(b) requirements concerning traceability, lots and labelling of the niche market material concerned.
(c) modalities of making available on the market.
This provision has sparked quite some discussion in the past few days, all over Europe. The emergence of this provision came as a surprise, and now people are starting to think about how it will affect everyone.
10 persons and annual turnover or balance sheet total does not exceed EUR 2 million
This is the sticking point. On one hand this seems to provide a nice exception for small farmers and seed companies, but on the other seems to cause some problems.
In the Netherlands, 2 small independent seed companies fall over this limit, as do other small independent seed companies in other countries like Franchi in Italy.
In the UK, small seed company Real Seeds has expressed concern, because their business depends on supplier relationships with larger seed companies. The Soil Association has publicly expressed concern because large investment is often need to develop new seed varieties, and smaller companies may not have the capacity to adequately do this.
Protecting Small Businesses
The original thought when this exemption was proposed was to reduce the red tape for smaller companies, but another purpose has emerged. If larger companies could not produce or sell niche market material, it also protects smaller businesses from competition from larger ones.
There is a big problem worldwide that we depend on a very small number of seed companies for virtually all of our seed, and this could provide a nice launching point for small businesses into the market.
Flawed Principles of Registration
There is widespread belief that the system of seed registration is seriously flawed to begin with, and a small exception like niche varieties is not enough. Instead there should be no mandatory registration for anyone, regardless of size.
However nice this provision may be in the regulation, the delegated acts in section 3 could completely undermine the entire article at any moment.
Getting Around the Limit
In my opinion, this is not a very hard limit. For example if a company is a little too large, they could form a holding company and 2 or more subsidiaries. This would be feasible for a small company, but less feasible for the very largest of seed companies.
I think seed could also probably be produced by foreign companies, then imported.
What Shall We Do?
Shall we keep this provision? Shall we scrap mandatory registration, then make this derogation unnecessary? Should we change the limit? Shall we keep this provision, but get rid of the delegated acts?
I personally think there’s a lot to be said for getting rid of mandatory registration for all non-GMO open pollinated varieties. The entire system of registration is seriously flawed. It’s not just seeds that are registered, but the entire supply chain, and in the end member states can impose even more restrictions if they want.
I also think there’s an argument for keeping this provision in order to protect smaller companies, but perhaps with some changes to fix obvious problems.