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Integrating technology into a meal


gfron1
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I'm gearing up for my next tasting menu in May, and want to explore ways that technology might be integrated into the meal. I'm not interested in sparklers and light shows, but rather technology that might actually enhance the meal at the table (v. in the kitchen).

The first idea I had, which is very much not cutting edge, is to request that all diners keep their cell phones on during the meal, and send targeted messages to diners at key points. For example, maybe I'm serving locally raised pork, and I send one person at each table an image of the family that raised the pork with a brief statement of their farming philosophy. Or possibly its a blurb about the use of pork by indigenous people in the area...something along those lines.

I think that's a pretty basic idea, and in the spirit of brainstorming, I'm not as concerned as why these ideas wouldn't work or might be annoying. I just want to throw a bunch of stuff out there and see what sticks.

What do you think? How would you take modern technology and apply it at the dining table?

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In the interests of comprehensiveness, I'll point out Heston Blumenthal's Sound of the Sea dish, where he provides diners with an iPod cued up with seaside sounds for them to listen to as they eat the dish.

One question that comes to mind is, what do you consider to be "technology"? Is servingware technology if it's sufficiently innovative? Are the pillows of scented air that Alinea uses a type of technology? Or are you restricting it to the narrower sense of electronics?

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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I'm certainly not restricted to electronics and I've been wondering what "plates" I could find to serve on. Basically, I'm looking for things that you wouldn't normally expect to find at the dinner table. I'm not sure if I consider Alinea's pillows to be technology however...I guess I'm thinking more geeky stuff.

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How much do you want to spend? :biggrin:

I am thinking of something like Microsoft's new "Surface" thing, on a smaller scale, for your plates. Some kind of LCD display mounted under the table would give all kinds of geeky visual opportunities. Or a projector mounted above? And I would definitely try to work speakers of some kind in while you're at it.

Also, re: using cell phones at the table... what about having them take pictures and upload them to flickr or the like, and show a live feed of the album on a screen? Sort of an interactive food-photography-while-eating thing.

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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You could always try the popcorn with 4 cell phones thing

there is a video on the web somewhere of a cheese aging in time lapse if you are doing a cheese course

integrate freeze dried icecream

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Project Google Earth on the wall, zoom in on where the food comes from.

Fantastic idea.

I have been using Google Earth with my students this quarter. For example, I might ask them to go to 33°59'34.98"N 117°38'02.26"W and figure out what they are seeing. A picture is worth a thousand words.
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You could always try the popcorn with 4 cell phones thing

tracey

OMG! That is too perfect! I didn't mention this because I'll start a different topic as I get closer t the event, but the theme will be urban legends.

I also love the interactive food blogging experience idea. As for Chris' screen on every table...I'll have to think about how I might set this up. Now I'm thinking this might be a fun project to partner with the local college on. Google Earth is another super idea!

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ooooh screen on the table....how about digital picture frames, some are really cheap now and take thumb drives

T

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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google earth sounds good. While we are at it perhaps voice recognition can be

integrated somehow. For example when the waiter comes to bring the food he can say ""here's your fresh salad "" in a microphone and tada! the digital plate or screen can show something related to that. Technology can also be used as ambiance, such as using different light effects, or different colors/designs on the digital screen to add an interesting atmosphere. I don't know if I am the only one but when I am eating I am not sure I want to start pushing buttons.

Cheers, Sarah

http://sarahmelamed.com/

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I think one of the post intriguing things about this is the idea of increasing diner participation in the meal: it could be an opportunity to engage diners in more active discussion of their food. I think you need to be careful to ensure that it is a compliment to the food and not a distraction from it, but careful attention to how and when you involve technology should help there.

ETA: Thinking about "hot" communications technologies at the moment: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, texting, eGullet (:wink:)... can you incorporate any of these into the meal? A live Twitter feed from the kitchen?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Twitter came up last night when I brought my geek spouse into the discussion. Admittedly its a tech that I haven't embraced yet. But it did get me thinking about the parallels between meals like this and walking through a museum or listening to an orchestra. In each instance we reach for peaks, stimulus, rest periods, etc. At all of my past meals I've taken a few opportunities to come out and talk to the crowd - at points that I think they need a sensory shift/rest. I could achieve the same effect through twitter or such where I send out my motivation or inspiration behind a dish.

Another caution that I want to keep in mind is that I don't want to give too much info away because the man behind the curtain is more fun than seeing him pull the levers, so achieving a healthy balance is what I'm going for.

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Instead of finding ways to offers more information to your guests, you could also find ways for them to communicate more directly with you. This would be very challenging considering that you would probably be very busy in the kitchen but I think that this is one of the main idea behind the trend of opening up the kitchens of restaurants.

I would however avoid information overload... after all dinning out usually means eating with people... if your custummers are distracted by technology or information, I'm not sure you will achive your goal of making their evening more pleasurable.

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What's scary is people have always said I look like Max Headroom (thanks for reviving my childhood teasing!)

Last night a friend suggested that we find a parallel site and skype teleconference the two meals on large screen tvs. Using the conference technology the large screen would be the attendees, in two smaller screens it would show the two chefs, and running graphics of the dish. Interesting idea. My first thought was that it doesn't enhance the meal, but as others have said, it would enhance the meal through expanding the social element. That leads me to think about the old TRL on MTV where they had running chat on the bottom of the screen.

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I want to contribute something useful to this thread but, so far, I got nothing. I'm not really all that technology savvy in the area of electronics wizardry. I don't even own a cellphone. I figure if I'm not where they can reach me without one, I probably don't want to be reached. I don't do teleconferencing because I don't really have a need to in my job. I don't even know what "twitter" is. But I'm going to work on coming up with something anyway... just so I don't feel completely like I'm living under a rock.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I think if you're doing this with the urban legends dinner, then you should definitely do something with "the call came from inside the house." Send texts before dinner starts or a video shot in the house, Blair Witch-style. Maybe stay hidden from the guests til you're ready to serve, and then send a mass text/video to set the mood.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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Not any stranger than anything else so far.... If by chance you wanted to do a clear soup of some kind....set everyone up with an individual electric drip coffee maker to heat their own soup...maybe having clear mugs with the garnish already in them

rental tables called umbrella tables would have a hole in the middle for cords

T

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Today I'm thinking about lasers and fiber optics...not sure how they play into things yet.

Hmm lighting

http://www.littlebrightlights.com/

T

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Cool site. The local chapter of the Lion's Club does the fireworks display every year for Canada day, kinda as a thank you to the community for their support, and they sell a lot of light-y, glow-y stuff at the event to offset some of the expense. I'm not a member (they keep asking, I keep resisting) but I'll pass that link on to one of them.

Rob, sounds interesting. Maybe you can borrow a class 4 laser from your friendly neighborhood laser surgeon and vaporize things ala Moto! :biggrin:

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Not to be a party pooper or anything, but, IMHO, all of this would detract from the food. Maybe its just me, but I dont want to read text messages or browse Flickr while im eating. And since you said this will be with a tasting menu, it doesnt sound like the TGI McFunster's food, which is what I think of when you have all kinds of crazy stuff going on around the food.

I do applaud the thought and imagination, but for me, the only one that piques my interest is the Google Maps idea.

Just my $.02

Oh, but good luck finding what you're looking for!

Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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I don't think it has to detract from the food, I think it just requires a great deal of thought and planning to be able to integrate things in a manner that won't detract. Little technological entertainment/information sets between courses and integrated into service pieces and things of that nature could enhance rather than detract if done well. I've followed Rob's previous dinners. If he doesn't think he can integrate it in a way that will enhance the experience, I have no doubt the idea will be out faster than a fat kid playing dodgeball.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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