Step aside foams and plant-based food, the cutting edge of dining could be in the virtual world. That's the idea of Aerobanquets RMX, "a mixed reality art and dining experience" currently on the menu at a mecca of New York dining, the James Beard House. In practice, the virtual reality (VR) eating experience allows diners to see a representation of their food through goggles they wear while dining. VR, a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image, enables users to immerse themselves in the dining experience.
The artist behind Aerobanquets RMX is Italian interdisciplinary artist, Mattia Casalegno. And VR eating upends the traditional experience of eating, diners at the Beard House told Reuters.
"The most interesting part is when you taste the food, you taste it in a way that you're not used to tasting food," explained Wolfgang Jorde, a 25-year old finance associate of the James Beard Foundation who participated in a VR meal at which Reuters was present. Having a traditional vision replaced with VR imagery eliminates the visual element of customary eating. And so as food is served, "you don't have those notions" from prior eating experiences, Jorde went on, leading to a clean slate to eat on.
The meal Jorde and his peers participated in were hosted by Aerobanquets's CEO Roni Mazumdar, who is also the founder of New York-based Indian restaurants, Rahi, Adda and Dhamaka. And so the night's menu was heavily influenced by the area's cuisine, including a kofta featuring goat cheese, and a dal with lemon dumplings,
For Mazumdar, the hope is that eating will become a "little more enhanced because of the ambience" VR allows. "Would that seafood taste better if you were sitting on a boat in the middle of an ocean with your uncle next to you that you haven't seen in years?" VR eating has also been put to use at Japanese restaurants like "Tree by Naked." Aerobanquets RMX itself has already had runs in Seoul and Shanghai.
And according to Mazumdar, the inspiration for VR eating is in fact nearly a century old, stemming from "The Futurist Cookbook." Published in 1932 by Italian activist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the book is a collection of surrealist recipes. As with many new trends, VR eating is currently an elite affair. Tickets cost $125 per person for the hour-long, seven-course experience at the Beard House.
Whether VR will ever have mass appeal remains an open question; consumer VR software investments fell 59 per cent from 2017 to 2018, according to SuperData Research, as was reported by Bloomberg. At the same time, hardware VR sales are up.
According to Mitchell Davis, the chief strategy officer of the James Beard Foundation, VR eating has the potential to bring "expensive technology to a much broader audience," as he told Reuters. "You don't need 50 people in a kitchen and a thousand dollar dinner to have a transporting experience that changes the way you think about food."
Located in Manhattan's West Village, the James Beard Foundation is known for giving out the biggest awards for the US restaurant industry. Tickets for Aerobanquets RMX are available through January 26