In this epoch of neophilia, where the appeal of the novel is above all else, the art of dining is as much about the experience as the food consumed. Let the show begin!
Curating these experiences is in the hands of the chef, who must add conductor, choreographer and creative director to their repertoire. It is simply not enough to know how to soufflé, sous-vide and soubise, today’s top chefs must have an understanding of fine art and even psychology to be able to dish up multi-starred dining.
UK chef Heston Blumenthal understood the importance of taking diners on a multi-sensory journey 10 years ago, serving diners at Fat Duck an iPod with a soundtrack of seagulls and crashing waves to accompany his dish ‘sound of the sea’ (pictured below), as well as nostalgic courses containing cereal boxes to “trigger intense childhood memories,” explains Blumenthal.
A quick look at the top eateries around the world, from Italy to South Africa and Australia, shows that in this new era of eating out, the stimulation of the senses goes far beyond our tastebuds.
"In this new era of eating out, the stimulation of the senses goes far beyond our tastebuds."
Art is not only a source of inspiration for Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, (number one on the World's 50 Best 2016 list, and second place in 2017), where his veal course is inspired by formaldehyde-loving artist Damien Hirst’s psychedelic spin painting.
“Art reminds you to keep a small window open for everyday poetry and when that happens, the most mundane object turns to gold,“ says the art- and music-loving chef. “A lemon tart drops and you realise that’s the next recipe,“ says Bottura, referring to his dessert ‘oops I dropped the lemon tart’ (pictured below), which looks like a masterpiece straight out of Jackson Pollock’s studio.
In Australia, Ben Shewry offers a nostalgic Australiana garden course – ‘cuppa tea & bikkies in the garden’ – at his Melbourne fine-diner Attica; while James Gaag (pictured below), head chef at La Colombe in South Africa’s Constantia wine region, takes unsuspecting diners down the rabbit hole for his whimsical Alice in Wonderland-themed course that is served in a fantastical secret garden behind a nondescript door in the dining room.
In Cape Town’s top restaurant, The Test Kitchen, chef-owner Luke Dale-Roberts takes diners on a literal journey where art and theatre are both part of the show. With a map in hand to navigate the food, they first pass through a 'dark room' (pictured below) cloaked in Japanese-style shou sugi ban charred-wood installations by artist Peter Eastman.
An opening snack of 'billionaire’s shortbread', chicken liver parfait layered with chocolate so it resembles millionaire's shortbread served in a little jewellery box adds theatrics, before diners ‘see the light’ in a room alive with classical music and white tablecloths. “The drama and art complete the experience,” says the experienced chef.