The reception Edible Stories has received so far from credible names like Dr. Rachel Edward Stuart,Caroline Hobkinson, and Bompas & Parr – all of whom have tried the concept and love it – has been astounding. Chloé talks us through what makes Edible Stories such a unique culinary experience…
Tell us about your culinary project Edible Stories?
So far I have taken fairytales, such as Hansel and Gretel and brought them to life through a 9 course edible experience. I break down the stories and look for different elements such as smell, colour, sound, light, touch, and even sometimes if I’m lucky, existing food triggers. Then, I transform them into something edible and place them in the right order so that they can evoke the story. Fairytales such as the ones that I have been working in are embedded in one way or another in each and everyone of us. Therefore it is important to use this at my advantage and pin down the moments of the story that everyone remembers. For example in Hansel and Gretel, when Hansel drops the pebbles on the path so that he and his sister will find their way back home. This will make it easier for the person eating the story to create and link in their memory. Food enables links to be made in the brain and adding a specific story and first-hand experience to this, the memory and story will be with you for always.
How would you describe your signature style?
As most of the stories that I have worked on are set in a natural environment, I use very raw materials such as wood, dirt, plants, and candles. My process has attempted to use food as the main means of telling and therefore I do not add any artificial props to the space.
To break it down I would say that the stories are mysterious, intelligent, and captivating. The spatial element is minimalistic with just enough to transport the users into the story world. And the food is evocative, eye catching, and intriguingly tasty.
Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
I have always been passionate about food, discovering how different ingredients come together to create something truly spectacular. I spent a lot my time reproducing recipes of famous chefs in my free time. Using food as my main material for projects, came to life after working with Marc Bretillot in Paris. He is not only the pioneer of Culinary Design in France but also a teacher and pilote of the Culinary Design course at ESAD (École Supérieure d’Art et de Design) in Reims, France. The term «culinary design» was invited by Marc 10 years ago and proposed to this school, and still today it remains the only laboratory for this kind of course in France and even in Europe. I consider Marc as my mentor and a great source of inspiration for my work. Whenever I return to Paris I have the great pleasure of being able to meet with him and discuss the developments of Edible Stories over a glass of wine.
In developing the various course menu’s I have worked hand in hand with David Bradley (also known as the Curious Confectioner). The process has been a real learning experience, as rather than taking the first version and adding his ideas, he has challenged me on certain points that he did not find gave justice to the concept. I then had to take time and research techniques, combinations, flavours, aromas, and come back with something that is more coherent, refined, and experimental.
Above, I spoke about research. I have gone to the culinary section of pretty much every shop to look at what exists out there and how I can make it my own. I enjoy going to experimental restaurants and this has greatly influenced my intrigue for new approaches to visual esthetic but also cooking techniques. I would say some (but not exclusive to the following) names would be the NOMA recipe book, some of Thierry Marx’s molecular cuisine, L’Arnsbourg Restaurant(Strasbourg), Pipero al Rex Restaurant (Rome).
In creating an intimate experience I have looked at works from the Rotozza company with their project Etiquette which have been extremely inspirational as they manage to create the non-space that I attempt to create in my projects. In testing I attempted to reproduce their project in the Breakfast Club near Liverpool Street with the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. With the 5 subjects listening to audio through headphones and creating a narrative bubble around them. I have developed this as I am no longer creating an introvert experience but rather a shared experience but which still created the narrative non-space surrounding the 5 guests of the experience.
Where do the edible stories take place?
Edible Stories is still very young, and is in what I would call the experimental phase. So far I have hosted the dinners in strategic, available and free locations. The first (3 consecutive events) was in a wooden shed in the back garden of a friends house out in Ilford. This location was ideal as it builds up the experience. One would arrive in a very stereotypical suburban neighbourhood, be escorted through sounds such as wolves howling or birds singing, and arrive in a shed. Once inside, the guests had no connection with time, place, or space. The second location I used was a friends warehouse in Seven Sisters. This space translated the notion of the ‘meal’ in the more traditional sense as it was set around a table in the middle of a grand open space, but still keeping an element of mystery with the sounds played, the lighting and the table installation.
What could those intrigued expect to experience at an Edible Story event?
The Edible Stories event is a dinner composed of 9 courses lasting 2 hours and for 5 people. The diner becomes integrally part of the story and the telling, as they discover throughout the course of the evening that they are a character of the story, and therefore the protagonist of their own experience. The only information that they receive before-hand is the time, place, and that they will be living a fairytale but not which one. Throughout the course of the 2 hours experience, the unfolding of the story becomes clear through interactions between the 5 guests and the manner in which they are instructed to interact with the food placed in front of them.
Quite a few big names in the culinary industry have tested your concept – Dr. Rachel Edward Stuart,Caroline Hobkinson, and Bompas & Parr. What was it like being considered by them?
My process since the start has been to take the hard route. I exclusively invited people that were in the culinary industry because I knew that they were going to be the most critical in order to push the project forward. I learnt a lot through the 6 events and had the privilege of meeting some incredible people.
The pressure was on, as I wanted to do everything in my power to not disappoint. I had been able to get them excited just by telling them about the project, but that is easy, now I had to prove through food that the concept actually worked! I had already tested it out several times before, but this group were going to be hard to crack. Combined, they had worked with Heston Blumenthal, Charles Spence, and even translated the history of food into an edible experience and were not coming to just have a nice meal, they were coming to see if I was going to be able to propose a new approach to the edible experience.
After two hours, of peeping through a room separator and hearing some feedback on the visual aspect of the courses I was bringing to them, the event was over, and they had cracked the story and the characters. Amazing! what a relief. Their comments were extremely encouraging and they urged me to continue working on the concept to make my mark as a Culinary Storyteller.
You have also recently been invited to become a member of London’s Experimental Food Society. What does that involve?
The EFS was created by Alexa Perrin in 2010 and showcases the UK’s most talented and pioneering culinary creatives that challenge the perception of food. The society consists of a variety of different approaches to food, and becoming a member will not only associate me with a group of talented culinary designers, but also facilitate future collaborations with them. Seeing that Edible Stories was created at the end of 2012, having this opportunity so early is a great honor. I should normally be presenting Edible Stories at the November banquet next to some of the other new additions.
Which has been your most memorable project you’ve worked on?
Edible Stories as a whole has been such an exciting and stimulating experience. But I would probably say that the event held on 24 March was the most memorable. I had a refined and elegant 9 course menu which would challenge the perception and taste buds of my guests. On the 23rd I had made all the preparations by myself until about 4 am, as I wanted everything to be perfect, and not to be too stressed out the day of the event. A combination of feeling going from stress to excitement were building up inside of me and kept me going. It was hard to believe that I was hours away from serving my project to these big names ( Sam Bompas, Harry Parr, Caroline Hobkinson, Dr. Rachel Edward Stuart, and Sean Rogg). I finished all the prep work at 6 and the guests were scheduled to arrive at 7, so just enough time to touch up on make up and get changed into my host attire. Thankfully I had two friends helping, one with photography and one in the kitchen. I don’t think it would have flowed as nicely without them. Everything went according to plan and turned out to be impressive, even I was impressed by some of the outcome. After the two hours, the positive adrenaline stress anxious feeling was calming down, and the event had come to a close. The feedback was incredible and everyone was impressed by the experience. I knew that they were going to be my hardest group of guests and I was proud to have presented something that they were excited about.
What are you currently working on?
As this project started as my diploma project for my MA Narrative Environments course at Central Saint Martins, I am busy working on putting it all together as a product. I have created a kit including the recipe book, utensils, and ingredients. The box has a double usage not only can it contain all of the above but when it is flipped it becomes the dining table for the 5 guests.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
After having completed numerous events for Edible Stories, I have decided to write the edible experience recipe book. I am looking to create a series of recipe books that will form a collection. I have recently finished the first version and will use this as a prototype to approach publishers and embark on a long lasting culinary adventure. Ideally at every new book, an edible experience will take place.
Anything else to add?
Edible Stories has opened a lot of doors for me over the past couple of months and I have had the privilege of meeting and gaining the respect of some very influential people in the Industry. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the guests for having tested out the beginnings of Edible Stories. But more importantly all the people that have helped me backstage in the process and have supported me throughout the developments.