Shaun Quade’s voice reaches us as the person behind the bar at Melbourne’s Lume restaurant hands you a welcome drink. And, within seconds you are transported from the sunny and spacious restaurant to the lemon orchard at Yarra Valley in Victoria, from where Qade, a pastry chef you might recognise from Masterchef Australia. A citrusy scent reaches you as Quade plucks a lemon from a tree. If you look up, there are birds in the sky. But, the next moment, you’re back to the restaurant.
Across the food counter at his 50-seater restaurant, Quade is seen whipping up a dessert that he calls My Lemon Tree – which has a sugar shell shaped like a lemon which he places on branches. The scent wafts in and you’re wondering if your nose has just got sharper. Quade brings the dish to your table and somehow, suddenly, the table is back at the orchard…
“At this point, the video ends and when you pull out the VR set, you will see the dish placed at your table,” grins the 35-year-old, seated across the table at a banquet hall at Lower Parel’s St Regis Hotel. The experience might have been a mere VR, but the brain played its trick and recalled cirtus scents. Tech, as Quade just demonstrated, has great potential in adding value to a regular dining experience. The VR experience is now for VIP diners only, but he says it does leave most people hungry for the dessert, even though the wait is only two minutes and 40 seconds long. “I wanted to share with our diners the story of the food, something I feel that a lot of people are interested in now.
They want to know where the food is coming from, especially as many are environmentally conscious. These specific lemons are native to California but are grown at this farm near Melbourne. Since we can’t get the diners to the orchard, we figured we could get the orchard to the diners through this experience.”
The video was made and first shown at the Taste festival in Melbourne in November 2016. For the experience, Qade and his partner Veronica created a replica of the restaurant in a shipping container. Pitch black inside, there were smoke machines for a dramatic effect and a perfume with a cirtusy hint was sprayed. “For added effect, we brushed the diners with lemon leaves around the time that they’d be walking through the orchard,” he laughs.
Quade hopes to bring in more multi-sensory and tech experiences into his restaurant. For instance, he says, when a diner walks in, a face-recognition software could allow the restaurant to recall the customer’s name and preferences available from their social media – perhaps you like a certain kind of wine – while serving them. The mind conjures up many scents. And, right now, the idea of digging into a lemon dessert while sitting in an orchard suddenly seems high on priority.