I know how this goes:
- A table for two
- A bottle of something
- A few plates to share
- One dessert, two spoons and coffee
- The cheque, our coats and a hasty photo for posterity
The restaurant is a predictable pleasure. But a pleasure that becomes more prosaic as the experience repeats itself again and again around the world. It doesn’t matter who I’m with, where I am or what the occasion – I know what’s on the menu.
Because the restaurant experience is a product that works. The restaurateur turns a profit, diner expectations are met, and the chef has an easy model within which to fit their creativity.
But when menu fonts start to look the same, Maldon sea salt comes standard, waiters may as well be wearing an anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, and I can swear I’ve seen the tables, chairs and lights in an Ikea catalogue, we have a problem.
Eating is a basic human need, but eating out is an escape that lets us forget about setting the table, an indulgence that lets us dress up and get messy, a luxury we can consume. But when we can envision the escape, when we know what’s coming, well…it all becomes a bit bland.
The chef is the ultimate artist, playing on all the senses including the most personal one, taste. But demanding any artist, particularly a chef, to reproduce their creativity again and again is a recipe for consistently good food, but not for the culinary escape we seek.
Chefs need freedom to take risks and create outside of the restaurant format that bashes any artistic instincts into dollar-shaped actions to match client palettes and investor demands. Chefs want to cook on a blank canvas and the diners are desperate for the signed original.
So how can we bring mystery back to an experience that is less about functionally satisfying our nutrient requirements and more about feeding our souls? How can we excite and delight with more than flavoured salt and petit fours? What will it take to make a meal truly memorable, without needing Instagram to remind us what we ate last night?
Around a table filled with good food, wine and generosity, human contact is a given. We sit around tables to initiate romantic liaisons, to strengthen, and sometimes test family ties, and to reinforce old and start new friendships.
So where are the tables that allow for this interaction? Family dinners are naturally private affairs and romantic liaisons are limited to two (in the corner table or on the couch). In restaurants, being able to spontaneously join in conversations with other tables is unheard of, and the most you will see of a chef is a hunched figure of concentration controlling the kitchen pass. In this environment, connections and interactions are limited.
Entrepreneurial chefs and forward-thinking restaurateurs have seen this gap in emotional engagement and are filling it with creative endeavors which provide an outlet for the chef to produce their art and an experience, diners will remember long after the taste has gone.
Using new platforms and technology they are creating food experiences that are fresh, original and exciting.
The concept of the popup is to take over an amazing space and create something magical. There is an exclusive quality to the experience (limited time and limited seats) that makes it even more desirable. The entire event is created from scratch – the concept, brand, visuals and voice, menu, format design and execution. Chefs and restaurants have the opportunity to redefine and diversify their brand and connect with an entirely new community.
Monkey Town came to Barcelona in 2015, combining challenging video art with refined food, all contained within a giant screened wall to create a food experience, that encouraged you to taste, see and hear the creativity of curator Montgomery Knott.
The Supper Club
Supper clubs are a dining experience created entirely through the eyes of the chef. The chef selects the venue – their own home, or a private and unique space (think art galleries, design stores, boats, vacant parking lots, and secret gardens). Next the chef creates a menu, not limited by economics, restaurant logistics, monotone palettes or brand expectations. They have a clean dish on which to plate their most aggressively imaginative culinary visions. The supper club also removes the ‘pass’ (the famous bar that separates the chefs from the front of house), in effect making the chef a touchable and savory star.
The supper club is exciting. It possesses unpredictability and tendency to surprise that attracts even the most hardened foodie. It is as exclusive as it is democratized making it accessible but also just out of reach of the lazy and unimaginative. It is social enough to allow for wild cross-table conversations with diners who just moments ago were strangers, yet also offering an intimacy that allows for pleasure to be shared with just one other. Supper clubs are where wild chefs roam and adventurous foodies hunt.
Hidden Factory is one of Barcelona’s longest running supper clubs. Hosted by Xavi and Nico in the Raval, nights are filled with mind-blowing flavours, art, music and dance, and unexpected connections with other diners around their exclusive chef’s table.
The food truck is romanticized for good reason, all around the world childhoods were punctuated by scoops of ice cream, crunchy cinnamon-dusted churros, tacos, burritos and enchiladas, and hot dogs with the lot. Food trucks today are less cute and cooler and the people lining up are more likely to be food hunters than hungry kids. The format offers the chef a moveable format through which to share their food vision and engage directly with the hungry streets.
The ambitious food lover is on a never-ending quest to eat the best meal of their lives; every plate should beat the last thereby maximizing lifetime gormandizing satisfaction. The unpredictability of the popup, supper club, or food truck makes it particularly enticing; with menus, formats, guest lists and locations always up in the air until the doors open.
The restaurant works, the restaurant is spectacular, and it will always be, but we are hungry for a delicious diversity studded with random popups, secret supper clubs and food trucks that do more than just play repetitive jingles.
I believe the chef has noble aims, in that food is not just what they cook, but what they make others taste, and taste doesn’t just happen behind closed restaurant doors.
About the Author of this Blog Post – Joel Serra
JOEL SERRA BEVIN aka Papa Serra Jr was born in New Zealand and grew up in Tasmania, Australia’s southern-most island and quite literally the end-of-the-world.
He passed eight years working as an Economist in Melbourne, while on the weekends running a supper club out of his apartment, and also enjoying 15 minutes of fame on Masterchef Australia(the videos exist somewhere on the dark web).
Realizing he preferred cracking nuts over crunching numbers, Joel left life as a consultant and moved to Barcelona where he founded Papa Serra Culinary Adventures (named after his Catalan great-grandfather). He launched a Barcelona rooftop supper club, collaborated on pop-up dining tours around the world, and hosted culinary adventures to all parts of Spain.
From there, Joel went on to lead the private chef and social dining movement around the world, convinced by the power of food to unite. Combining food, technology, culture and innovation, he remains driven to make the world eat better and together.
With heroes ranging from Hunter S. Thompson to Anthony Bourdain, Joel strives to create work that is original, entertaining, and always delicious.
More about Joel Serra at: http://www.papalosophy.com/