Restaurants and chefs are constantly asked to do fundraising events to benefit various charities within the community. While most chefs are very generous with their resources and try to contribute in a meaningful way...to be completely honest, these events are a pain in the ass. Chefs are forced to meet the expectations of hundreds and even thousands of people at one time, while being operationally and creatively handcuffed. The makeshift kitchens often consist of induction burners and fold-up tables, and the use of plastic service ware and the inevitable surrendering of complete control in the manner in which the food is served and the environment it is served in becomes extremely difficult.
However, as with most things in the realm of creativity, problems provide inspiration.
Because we were looking at this as our first impression to many people, we went about the creative process much in the same way we would when approaching an aspect of designing Alinea. We analyzed all of the event's elements; the number of people per hour, the traffic flows, the characteristics of the space in which the event would be held (including the lighting, color palate, and textures of the surface), and the typical problems with events of this nature. This included the common practice of carrying a plate of food in one hand and a glass in the other while trying to both consume and be social with people, often strangers, that you were herded into the feeding line next to.
With the inherent downsides and possible solutions to them in mind, we then asked ourselves what goals we had for creating an art-meets-food experience in a unique setting. It turns out that all of the drawbacks were also sources of ideas. Suddenly the thought of hordes of people crowding an eight-foot table, waiting to eat, became an appealing way to evoke emotion through human proximity. Most people have a certain comfort zone of personal space, especially while eating...this was the communal table on steroids. How can we extenuate the human element while eating?
And the space. While our container at Alinea is designed to be intimate and residential in scale, now we had volume. Service pieces could scale to eye level heights...in fact, it only makes sense to do so: people are standing at these events, there are no tables and chairs, and so bending over to pick up or examine food on a low table is awkward. How do we expand our scope and break free from the tabletop limiting dimensions?
Of course we had to consider the venue. Why would we try to serve the same food and in the identical manner it is at Alinea? This is after all a museum exhibiting contemporary art. If the installations prioritize a spirit of experimentation, new ideas about the functions of art, different ways of seeing and defining art, and a leaning toward abstraction, then why not use that as a creative avenue as well? It frees us from the rules governing dining in a restaurant, and encourages more risk taking as well as balancing the priorities of emotional response and deliciousness.