23.05.17

Sensational food: Bram van der Vorst and Dinner in Motion

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After establishing a career in live events, Bram van der Vorst has opened a restaurant where technology, fun and creativity are on the menu. Paul Milligan finds out how it’s done.

"Working for customers always involves a concession, sometimes it’s creatively, or the budget, or the timeframe.  If you work for someone else you have to do what the person who pays the bills says.  Once in a while we like to do some fun projects for ourselves, without a compromise.  How beautiful would the world be if there was no restriction in creativity?"

Having built up a successful career in live events production with Aventiq, Bram van der Vorst was looking for a new channel for his creativity, and Dinner in Motion, billed as ‘dinner meets sensation’, turned out to be it. 

The genesis of the project dates back to 2014, when the world’s most expensive restaurant, Sublimotion in Ibiza, Spain, was launched.  Marrying a Michelin-starred chef with 360-deg projections, it garnered more headlines for its price tag (€1,500 per head) than its food or the technology.  Soon after Van der Vorst set to work on his own version, which would combine fun, creativity and fine dining, but with a much more reasonable admission price.  “We have a digital playground in our offices so we can play around,” says van der Vorst.  In October 2015 he began the first technology tests of his own dinner concept, and it was an immediate success. “We filmed it using fake dishes and posted it online.  In two days it had 2,000 views, so we knew the potential was there.”

Encouraged by this response he then did a pilot at his company’s offices, “We built the setting, and the technology and the content, and got a caterer in to make the food, so we could connect the food to the technology and the setting and the story we were selling.  We sold 500 tickets in 4 weeks with only a €400 Facebook campaign as promotion.”

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By this stage the project had already outgrown its initial venue, so a search for a new one began.  Eventually van der Vorst chose one he had worked in many times on live events, The Wall in Utrect, which is the longest building in the Netherlands and sits centrally on the A2 motorway, right in the middle of the country.   

Van der Vorst built two theatres (at Dinner in Motion the lines are often blurred between food and theatre, so it’s not called a restaurant) which run simultaneously, twice a night.  So what can visitors to Dinner in Motion expect? “We try and manage expectations beforehand.  People have an idea of what they will see before they step foot in the venue, but we try and reset their expectations, our goal is to take it to the next level.”

The theatres are designed around an airport concept (visitors are there to go on a journey), so guests are received in the front office desk and hand over their tickets and are each given a boarding pass.  They are then moved to gate 1 or gate 2 (the different theatres), where there is a slight delay (on purpose, to make the airport experience as real as possible! They are given a drink to help ease the short wait).  They are then taken to a table of 38 (in a 2x19 configuration).

When the show begins the staff leave the room and the room is transformed into a rocket ship and ‘takes off’.  The tables shake and move to simulate flight, using ButtKickers underneath the table and fans to simulate wind for a 4D effect.  “This project makes you look at the psychology of eating, because during the meal the technology plays with your senses, and messes your head up,” says van der Vorst.  There are 16 scenes in total, all different, and using a variety of content, video, stop motion, still images, and stock content. 

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Two scenes in particular show how the technology, food and creativity are married.  “One scene involves images of Andy Warhol’s Tomato Soup, but how would it taste? We all know the image but nobody has tasted that soup, at Dinner in Motion you will get to taste that soup,” says van der Vorst.  “Maybe it isn’t tomato soup inside, we have used that scene as a dessert, and served strawberry ice cream inside a real can of tomato soup.  The formula of Dinner in Motion is this blend of theatrical elements, the build up of tension, and then delivery of food.  We also have a scene involving a series of famous Dutch paintings, including the Girl With The Pearl Earring by Vermeer, in that scene you get to eat the pearl.”

This scene features multiple images and intense, immersive audio.  At the point where it nears sensory overload the scene goes completely black and soothing classic music plays and a new scene begins, with a projection on the table of four orange squares at each seat.  This transforms into a picture frame with a small chocolate pearl in the middle, and a projection of the girl with the pearl earring inside that frame on each seat.

All the content is produced by van der Vorst and his team in-house. The technology used in each theatre is 12 Canon WUX450ST WUXGA short throw projectors, all edge-blended to give 360-degree images.  “This project was impossible five years ago, because projectors weren’t bright enough and the lenses weren’t available,” says van der Vorst.

Eight projectors are hung on the wall, with four more in the ceiling, on a truss.  The projectors use a 75% lens shift so the projector beam is pointed in a steep downward angle, as the projectors have a short throw ratio of .56:1 it means the staff don’t have to stick to certain walking lines, or get blinded by projectors shining in their eyes.  “In this room there is shade everywhere, when the waiters come in there aren’t allowed to have their shadows on the wall, because you give away the concept. So we wanted technology that you see but can’t see how it was produced.”  Audio, supplied by Ampco Flashlight, lives in a grid above the tables. 

How dies van der Vorst ensure the technology and the food works in tandem? “It has to be balanced, if you have too much of one element it won’t work.  There is a continuous search for the perfect formula.”  Dinner in Motion features a 6-course meal, but it has 16 different scenes at its disposal, so the experience can differ from one day to the next.

“This is new way of dining, we have all seen large images, and we have all eaten in nice restaurants, but a combination of those two things? We can give people an experience they’ve never had before, and that’s the fun part.  We now have Michelin-starred chefs wanting to cook here and improve the concept.  We have made these types of concepts for corporate events for one day, but after the day if over we tear everything down, and all that we have left is some pictures.  With this people can experience what images can do to you, how much fun technology can be.”