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By Eric Mutrie and Elizabeth Pagliacolo

Divided into three sections (The Kitchen, The Menu and The Table), the travelling Tapas: Spanish Design for Food exhibit showcases the preparation tools and presentation techniques that best reflect Spanish design – most notably the kind devoted to serving up chorizo, jamón ibérico and the country’s many other culinary delights. Organized by the Acción Cultural Española, the show displays 150 items, as well as video and photography that delve into Spain’s obsession with food, within elegant wood-framed glass cases.

While signature tools like the paella pan are featured prominently, on the menu is everything from candy wrappers (an ode to the Salvador Dali-designed Chupa Chups logo includes a giant version of the lollipop) to food carts. The show also celebrates the ritual of enjoying a good vintage. Besides a full wall of Spanish wine bottles, the numerous decanters and goblets – not to mention drinking vessels modeled from bull testicles – demonstrate the design ingenuity that goes into creating an entirely unique dining experience, from assembling the first platter to sipping the last of the cava.

Here, we highlight five lessons on food design that we’ve learned from the Tapas show.

1 Pay Attention to Plating
With his exuberant serving dishes for Choemon Gama and Lladro, you might think Jaime Hayon has a monopoly on Spanish design whimsy. But at Tapas, his pieces are surrounded by others that demonstrate just how ripe dinnerware is for experimentation. Designer Andreu Carulla based his aluminum serving tray PlatDePa, designed for El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, on a loaf of tomato bread. Also working with chefs in mind, Oscar Pérez Sellarés designed the Creative cutlery set (below, left) for serving up micro-tapas. A more rudimentary design, the Clothespin spin by Luki Huber for Design Mix lets you suffuse your gazpacho with fresh herbs.

2 Play With Your Food
Just like PlatdePa, and the numerous other designs on display that take the staff of life as their inspiration, these two designs show that the form of food itself contains the solution. The silicone Steam Roaster, designed by Com Peix a l’Aigua for Lékué, is malleable enough to wrap snugly around a trout, a loaf of bread or anything that you want to cook. And the ceramic Food on the Table dinner service – with its cork-stoppered hoof – by Marre Moerel makes no bones about the fact that animal products form a big part of Spanish cuisine.

3 Just Play. Period.
From bibs sporting neck tie graphics to…well, just about everything in this show, Spanish design throws a healthy dollop of mirth into the cooking and eating rituals. While its World Cup dreams for 2014 have been dashed, Spain’s passion for the beautiful game extends to the dinner table. To bring a taste of the sport into his Washington restaurant, Spanish American José Andrés added a sheet of thick glass to the top of a foosball table. The exhibit also includes chef José Andrés’s sporty resin sneakers for serving croquettes.

4 Make Your Own Tools
Cooking and design are both rooted in experimentation; and when it comes to design for cooking, sometimes you need to invent new tools for new challenges. Rather than scoop the crumbs from slicing bread into the garbage bin, why not feed the birds? While we’re not sure how practical Currot Claret’s idea is, his Crumbs-Birds cutting board funnels morsels down to a bird feeder. If that’s not multi-tasking enough, the La Cool Vie Boheme, by Daniel Gantes, furnishes a simple trestle with dish holders, wine buckets and plant pots. And, taking cuisine to a whole other level, the godfather of molecular gastronomy, Ferràn Adrià, devised his own moulds in order to shape the new foods he was inventing.

5 There’s No Wrong Way to Enjoy Wine
The Coporrón glass, by Martín Azúa and Gerard Moliné, is one of many vessels on show that seem to have been invented in order to make the consumption of wine a much more rarified experience. It combines a standard wine goblet with a funnel/decanter that lets you tip a tipple into your mouth.

Tapas is on Toronto’s Design Exchange until August 10.

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