The Designer Who Makes Dessert Come to Life - Gastro Obscura
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The Designer Who Makes Dessert Come to Life

Experience desserts that move and a record made of chocolate.

Erika Marthins' chocolate vinyl on the turntable.
Erika Marthins’ chocolate vinyl on the turntable. Courtesy of Erika Marthins

If chocolate could sing, what would it sound like? Erika Marthins, a Swedish graduate student, reckons chocolate would regale us with tales of life on Venus. So Marthins cut a vinyl record made entirely of chocolate, which reverberates with the space-age sounds of The Tornados’ “Life on Venus” when you drop a needle (whose arm is shaped like a piping bag) onto its surface.

Take this chocolate vinyl record for a spin, won't you?
Take this chocolate vinyl record for a spin, won’t you? Courtesy of Erika Marthins

Marthins created what she calls a “wedding of sound and chocolate” as part of her recent graduate design project, Déguster l’augmenté, at Switzerland’s ECAL (École cantonale d’art de Lausanne). Marthins conceptualized three desserts—the chocolate vinyl, a poetry-refracting lollipop, and a moving gelatin dessert—and sought to find different ways to experience food. “I started to think about if you can put music into food,” she says. “What if you could put an image into food? What if you can put movement into food?”

If this sounds a lot like playing with food, that’s because it is. “As a child, you imagine being [different] kinds of food, or that … this kind of potato will talk like that,” she says. This instinct isn’t so distant from the design work she now pursues. While Marthins says that her project is “super playful and kind of childish,” it uses advanced technology to explore the intersection between food and play.

Marthins collaborated with the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne’s Chef Fabien Pairon to develop textures and tastes for the three different desserts. She also worked with the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems’ Jun Shintake to craft the animated gelatin dessert—made of soft edible robotics—that moves delicately on plates. She envisioned the interactive dessert as less science fiction than “theater, a small show,” and she modeled its movements on how flowers open up in bloom.

Tonight's dessert moves!
Tonight’s dessert moves! Courtesy of Erika Marthins

She also found food to be a more malleable medium to work with, more so than, say, metal or glass. In particular, Marthins’ background as a designer made her wonder about ways that she could both present and interact with food. “If you look at it just as material, it has everything: It has all the color possible, it has transparency, it can be solid or crispy,” she says. “Food is very, very complete.”

Using food as a material posed both unique challenges and surprises. The chocolate vinyl works like a gramophone in that the needle reads sound via the record’s grooves. The needle vibrates, then the cone-shaped horn amplifies the sound—all while shaving off the chocolate.

“The really beautiful thing with the chocolate … is when you actually play it, since it wraps off a bit of the chocolate, it has this smell as you listen to it,” Marthins says. Of course, if you hold the chocolate record in your hands for just a touch too long, it begins to melt.

Marthins collaborating with Chef Fabien Pairon to craft prototypes of the chocolate vinyl record.
Marthins collaborating with Chef Fabien Pairon to craft prototypes of the chocolate vinyl record. Courtesy of Erika Marthins

For Marthins, the fact that these desserts are fleeting only adds to their appeal. In fact, you’re only supposed to spin the edible “Life in Venus” record once, otherwise the needle begins to destroy the sound waves within the chocolate. “When you eat something, you only see it once,” she says. “You should appreciate the moment when you do something. It becomes almost a holy moment.”

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