The kitchen is an extraordinary playing-field," said Marc Bretillot, one of a new breed of French food designers. "Playing with food is essential to our balance.Letting children play with food may be a no-no for many parents, but now the designers of sofas, lamps and tableware are also toying with the stuff that keeps us alive and kicking.
Take bread that talks, or edible stilettos for a bit of Valentine's Day fun: like contemporary psychologists who believe playing with food can help food phobias and fussy eaters, food designers are bringing a third dimension to the table.
"The kitchen is an extraordinary playing-field," said Marc Bretillot, one of a new breed of French food designers. "Playing with food is essential to our balance, peeling a potato is a return to nature, eating awakens all five senses at once."
But because, fundamentally, eating is a life and death matter, food is design's last frontier.
"Imagine swallowing a green moss-covered sandwich," said Bretillot. "Before putting anything in your mouth, the lights must unconsciously switch to green. People used to die from tasting new things, today we have science to determine whether food is poisonous or not."
Pushing the limits of how much creativity we can swallow is the name of Bretillot's game -- such as the chocolate suppositories, green eggs filled with mango mush and coconut milk, or chocolate-filled syringes he dished up at a lunch this month.
"It's all about exploring the culinary world, scrambling the codes, but it must also always taste good."
If good food is undeniably an endless source of pleasure, one Paris designer is taking the extra step by exploring the link between gastronomy and sex.
Working with high-end tableware firms such as crystal-maker Baccarat or silver-maker Christofle, as well as a handful of chefs, designer Philippe Di Meo launched a range of Valentine's Day specials at the world's biggest home fair, Maison & Objet, late last month.
Among them a real-size white chocolate stiletto with a marzipan heel as well as a solid silver lipstick case containing Lolita-red strawberry chocolate available at luxury grocer Fauchon, or a Dom Ruinart champagne with a crystal cork "for refreshing the body with bubbles in the most sensitive spots." "Food and sex have gone hand in hand since prehistoric times," he said. "It can be as erotic to watch someone eat as to enjoy tasting what's in your plate."
At the plainer eating-to-survive end of the spectrum, Edouard Malbois for the past four years has scoured the world in search of food designs from exotic places that often wind up on western supermarket shelves.
From a "talking" seaweed bread fashioned with gourmet guru Heston Blumenthal (of Britain's Fat Duck) that makes sand and seagull sounds when crunched, to an India-inspired smoothie combining mango, carrot and ginger for food giant Cargill, Malbois says design brings added value to the plate.
"We work on colours, desire, emotions, new ways of cutting and slicing food, and new ways of eating to suit our new lifestyles."
"There are no frontiers between the decorative arts, furniture, design and food," said Malbois, whose company Enivrance has set up a 23-volume database on street-food across the planet sold to a dozen of the globe's top food corporations.
Fascinated by the US and British fashion of eating and drinking on the move, Malbois for instance broke down sandwiches into bite-size pieces sold in tubes for Britain's Good Food chain.
Current prototype is a green-coloured Mexico-inspired hamburger-style sandwich featuring a slice of cheese wedged between chewy pieces of young prickly pear leaf.
"Greed has no barriers," he says.