A photo-happy bunch of diners relishing a five-course meal up in the air recently went viral. From monogrammed napkins to matching floral arrangements, the perfectly set table was suspended in the air while its patrons relinquished the gastronomic delights.
Clearly, the chirpy enthusiasm inside a restaurant or the fresh air of the al fresco seating is not a big lure anymore. While what’s on the plate continues to dominate dining trends, where the plate is located is slowly becoming a more frequently asked question these days.
From DIY cooking experiences to wine stomping, restaurateurs are leaving no stone unturned to attract the millennial consumers. We live in a world where digital platforms drive conversations, and retaining the customer’s attention to the food or at the table is beyond traditional marketing strategies. The key is to offer a unique, personal and an enriching experience that not only engages their minds but all their senses as well.
Driven by strong themes or objectives, curated dining experiences add another vertical to the food maker’s portfolio, thus adding to the revenue stream. Seen as a business innovation or a way to proper a social goal, value-added experiential dining is well received by the consumers at large.
While experiential dining has been around, it is time to add value and meaning to the many experiences that not just feed the ideal customers but also educate or enlighten them. Driven by strong themes or objectives, these curated dining experiences add another vertical to the food maker’s portfolio, thus adding to the revenue stream all the same. Seen as a business innovation or a way to proper a social goal, valueadded experiential dining is well received by the consumers at large.
To explore this trend, FoodBiz Asia speaks with three entrepreneurs on their enterprising experiences. Take notes as we dig out hospitality and business lessons…
GASTROGEOGRAPHY OF SINGAPORE (GOS)
GOS took shape in the gastronomic expedition art exhibition titled “ ”, a Singapore Biennale 2016 parallel project — a joint project of artists, botanists, biologists and several volunteers. It investigated the indivisible relationship between food and memory of Singaporeans throughout the course of rapid urbanization.
Made up of 374 pieces of concrete, a wall installation was erected that housed a collection of native botanical specimens preserved in ethanol. Featuring 100 specimens, this sensorium wall installation provided a multitude of sensory experiences and also facilitated dialogue that uncovered food history dated as far back as the 14th century.
“It started with the curiosity of how Singapore can tackle national food security,” said Steve Chua, one of the artists of the project. “We were appalled to find that a lot of the local kids thought blueberries were grown in Singapore. Although 90% of the fruits in Singapore are imported, we don’t have to be oblivious about what we have.”
When they started the project, they barely found 20 varieties of edible plants in Singapore. They incurred help from botanists and within a few weeks discovered more than 100 species. And from then on, GOS stood for “education, awareness and community”.
As it went on to discover new botanical surprises in Singapore, the group was always asked on how to use the plants and what one can do with them. “People often asked us, are you into food or plants?” Chua shared. And that led to the birth of a whole new experience.
At GOS, members strive to divulge peculiar yet exquisite flavours deriving from Singapore and Southeast Asia’s botanic diversity.
At GOS, members strive to divulge peculiar yet exquisite flavours deriving from Singapore and South-east Asia’s botanic diversity. In line with the vision, GOS named its gastronomic experience “Apero Prism”. Led by Chua and Laletha (Lithe) Nithiyanandan, they held the first food experience at the Singapore Art Museum. Called the Art+Food Afternoon, it was orchestrated to provide 80 members of the public an engaging gastronomic experience: a 12-course taster experience was shared based on native flora, offering guests an exquisite taste of authentic Singapore.
GOS has tied up with food artists, farmers and urban gardeners such as Nong Edible Garden and Project 53 to source and plant botanical treats native to Singapore. With the team’s creative experience and foodie friends, they have now compiled a menu of 60- 80 recipes that are made with plants grown mainly in Singapore. GOS hosts private events or monthly events in collaboration with NostTrekker that not only allow locals and tourists to sample their unique recipes but also educate them about Singapore’s botanical treasure trove. Each culinary experience is literally “farm to table” and cooked by Chua and Lithe themselves, thus creating a new market for urban farmers in return.
The seasonal menu rotates depending on the availability of natural produce. “The idea is not just to come, eat and go … It is to come, eat and experience what you are eating,” said Chua. “We want guests to realise and question, to know more about it,” he added. At the end of the gastronomic journey, GOS sometimes also invites guests to urban farms to encourage them to interact with the environment more closely.
“Ever since this project, I became a lot more mindful of what I was eating, where my food was coming from,” said Chua, claiming himself to be the pilot specimen in this journey of understanding the biological nature around us a little more closely and consciously.
Chua and his partners are also working on an “adult fairy tale” to help them take this mission to more and more people in and outside of Singapore.
Tucked away in one of the oldest but modern-day hipster settlements of Hong Kong stands a seafoam-green building, featuring architecture from a bygone era. It has lived right through World War II and transformed from being a bakery to a butchery and even a tea storage until it found its identity in a multipurpose culinary arts studio under the brand umbrella of Umami Concepts.
Modern and inviting, tailored and interactive, this space breathes of a cozy New York loft apartment. It features a fully equipped kitchen, large dining area and comfortable lounge, decorated with an eclectic mix of one-of-a-kind furniture, and a coveted guest list of chefs, tastemakers and mixologists.
Offering the highly evolved tastes of Hong Kongers and expats in the territory a unique way to spend their precious weekends, the bespoke experiences called “socials” are a welcome change in the bustling dining scene of Hong Kong. A typical time at these cooking socials or curated events include insider knowledge, guided experience with food tasting and cooking, as well as quality ingredients, said founder and chef Nolan Ledarney. From flying in a truffle hunter all the way from Tuscany to using specially crafted ingredients (some of which are also retailed on its sister platform, crafted852), the cooking socials are a true learning experience.
Featuring 100 specimens, this sensorium wall installation provided a multitude of sensory experiences and also facilitated dialogue that uncovered food history dated as far back as the 14th century.
While the online pantry crafted852 sources and retails speciality food products and ingredients such as jams, pasta sauces, vinegars and even kitchenware, this interactive experience enhances the sales as the consumer learns exactly how to use these gourmet products at home, straight from the horse’s mouth, said Ledarney.
Extremely popular with corporate groups, these culinary exercises are often tailored to suit the needs of team-building activities over food and wine. Umami Concepts’ wine socials involve not only wine tasting but also blending, where each team has to invent its own blend and then market its product to the group at large. This allows people to appreciate food better as well as understand the painstaking effort of creating taste.
This interactive cooking space works with chefs and food experts from all over the globe without any prejudice for popular names. “We emphasize on chefs who can really engage with the public and bring in a certain amount of personality to the social,” said Ledarney.
Umami Concepts plans to introduce more and more home-style chefs from India and Thailand to bring in authentic flavours of the Asian region to the expat island.
Whether you would like to go wine tasting in New Zealand, take cooking lessons in Kerala (pictured) or sample an Argentine steak cooked over an open fire, Scott Dunn has “a wide selection of culinary delights that will make even the most discerning of diners lick their lips”.
SCOTT DUNN’S GOURMET GETAWAYS
With over 30 years’ experience in planning “unique” itineraries to more than 90 destinations around the world, luxury tour operator Scott Dunn has introduced food-inspired holiday experiences to fulfil the increasing demand for such getaways. A refined selection of suggested itineraries for immersive culinary escapes that vary from spice market visits in India to sampling the fine wines and cheeses of France in historical chateaux, these experiences are designed to fully absorb the world’s most renowned cuisines to impress even the most discerning foodies.
Victoria Hogg of Scott Dunn Singapore spills the beans …
What is “unique” about Scott Dunn’s gourmet getaways?
Victoria Hogg: When it comes to our guests, nothing is too much trouble. We understand that everyone is different, so we will listen to what you and your travelling companions like, and we will create a totally tailor-made itinerary that will exceed all your expectations. Whether you would like to go wine tasting in New Zealand, take cooking lessons in Kerala or sample an Argentine steak cooked over an open fire, whatever your preferences, we have a wide selection of culinary delights that will make even the most discerning of diners lick their lips.
How do you curate gourmet experiences — what goes into the choice of destinations, restaurants, and so forth? Are there fixed parameters?
Hogg: Our travel specialists spend up to four weeks a year visiting properties, learning about the destination and trying out all the restaurants and local experiences which are available. So, when you call, you can feel confident in the knowledge that you are talking to someone who has been there, seen it and done it. With our extensive range of knowledge, our travel specialists can advise you on the ultimate gourmet destinations complete with Michelin-starred restaurants, cozy neighbourhood bistros and street vendors for a private journey to savour.
Are there any operational challenges?
Hogg: Travel specialists might experience limited availability when making reservations at the top restaurants. However, we will always manage the guests’ expectations if they are booking last minute. If there is no availability and we have tried our best to accommodate their wishes, we will always provide a selection of options as suitable alternatives.
Who is your target audience for these gourmet-focused trips?
Hogg: Our target audience is anyone. We can organise anything — from visits to cocoa plantations, where children are taught how chocolate bars are made, to organising a relaxing picnic in the most surprising of destinations, to spending the morning visiting a local market with your hotel’s chef and then helping to prepare an unforgettable lunch. We even organise culinary experiences for our youngest of guests in our Scott Dunn Explorers Kids Club.
How important is food while travelling?
Hogg: For many travellers, indulging in a country’s cuisine is a real draw to a destination. We believe that our culinary adventures are a sensual safari that evokes memories, binds people together and teases out your adventurous side.
Do the trips predominantly focus on local cuisine?
Hogg: Many of our gourmet getaway experiences are focused on local cuisine, celebrating beautiful regional ingredients that are the stars of so many iconic dishes. The range of experiences are endless: You can hunt for truffles in Provence, learn to make the perfect ceviche in a cooking class in San Miguel de Allende, or join a local family in Trogir as they make traditional Croatian fare.
The future of dining holds similar innovations and more. With the growing dependence of technology in our lives, time will tell how the dining industry adapts to this trend at the table to enhance the eating experience