Imagine going to a restaurant for your favorite cuisine and being transported as if by magic to the country of your choice? What if virtual reality could take you to places or even worlds you have never known?
Well, now this experience is possible at James Beard House in New York. Inspired by the Futurist Cookbook, an Italian collection of surreal recipes published in 1932, artist Mattia Casalegno joined forces with James Beard House to present Aerobanquets RMX.
“We create fun and exciting spaces for people to come in and have this amazing dining experience,” said producer and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar.
Aerobanquets RMX, designed by Casalegno in 2018, is a series of augmented culinary experiences centered on the perception of taste in virtual reality. The project is a multi-sensory journey, both physical and virtual, which has already had successful installations in South Korea and China.
The artistic experience is installed on the fourth floor of the house, but the climb is only the beginning for the four guests who enter together. Upon arrival, the waiting area gives little indication of what is to come.
James Beard House general manager Adam Jaffe accompanied our producer Toby Hershkowtiz on the virtual journey so he could experience it firsthand. “The more you trust and engage in the experience, the more you will gain from it,” said Jaffe.
After being greeted and brought into the waiting room, customers enter an unpretentious room and receive Oculus helmets to wear; then the magic begins. A picture appears before them as they begin their journey, narrated by Gail Simmons from Top Chef, with an audio track by Martux M. and Paul D. Miller.
“You create your environment, you manipulate space and everything around you, to create this story and move it forward,” said Mazumdar.
Guests are brought through several abstract scenes, where they can interact with virtual objects, including representations of food. Each scene ends with a “bite” of an exclusive menu organized by the famous chef Chintan Pandya from Rahi and Adda Indian Canteen, represented digitally but consumed in reality, allowing the guests to live the experience.
“What if you could swim with the fish … and have dinner?” asked Pandya. “Would it be possible? The answer is yes.”
Virtual reality, food and fantasy combine for a 40-minute otherworldly experience that changes your mind and questions “reality”, a negotiation between our expectations and what our senses do with our environments.
Aerobanquets RMX reprograms all of our perceptual expectations. Through multisensory engagement, participants experience a unique and complex spectrum of feelings, colored by their interpretations and responses.
“You must be crazy, you must be crazy. And that’s how you start this project,” said Pandya.