A New York based underground eating club? Sounds weirdly intriguing and fishy at the same time, doesn’t it? The Yellow Sparrow is in conversation with Mike Lee from Studiofeast – a culinary group that creates refreshingly new pop-up dining experiences. Read on to know the story behind their incredibly creative venture!
How would you define Studiofeast?
Studiofeast is an underground supperclub where we create and host pop-up dining experiences. It’s a temporary restaurant that happens one night at a time, often on a surprise schedule. We create experiences that range from the profound, to educational, to sensational.
What is the story behind Studiofeast?
It started out in 2007 as a way to bridge the gap between the fine dining experience you’d find in a lot of NYC restaurants, and the convivial atmosphere you get going to a friend’s house for dinner. We began by cooking for our friends, then it grew quickly as we started to bring strangers in on the fun.
What’s the craziest Studiofeast event you’ve done?
The L Train Lunch, which we did with another amazing supperclub, a razor, a shiny knife. I’ll let the video explain this one: http://nycdiningcar.com
What is the concept behind a supper club? How did it come into existence?
Our goal is to do things that you don’t typically find in a “normal” restaurant experience. We are by definition a temporary thing, so that gives us a certain flexibility in concept and in structure that a restaurant doesn’t always have the luxury of. The biggest outcome of this is the fact that everyone attending one of our events is connected in a more social way. It’s expected and wonderful to meet and bond with all of your table mates at a supperclub, which isn’t as socially expected in a restaurant to talk with other tables.
What advice would you give to a group of individuals planning on starting their own supper club?
You don’t have to take yourself too seriously, but you should take the food and operations very seriously. Organization is everything, and doing it well behind the scenes means your guests will have a great, seamless dining experience.
India is full of housewives who, by custom, are supposed to cook. So here’s an interesting question for you: how can a housewive inspire her husband to cook for her sometimes too?
Two things: recognize that cooking (and being a creator of anything) affords a certain level of respect and status. Cooking can feel like a chore sometimes, but it has an amazing ability to let everyday people put on a performance for their loved ones. The other thing is to teach techniques and frameworks for cooking, not just memorization of recipes. For example, it’s much easier to learn and more powerful a tool to teach someone the basics of making a sauce, but giving them a way to put their own spin on it. That way, cooking becomes a creative act and not just a set of instructions to follow.
We’ve read that family dinners was THE thing in your childhood. Most of us believe family dinners to be going out to expensive restaurants and eating in silence. But, what is the essence of a family dinner according to you?
The essence of a family dinner is using a shared experience to build a bridge between family members. We all have our own experiences throughout the day, independent of our family members. But the making and eating of a meal together is the common experience that breaks the ice and let’s people connect with each other. Conversations that start with talking about how great the food you’re sharing is, typically lead to more sharing of each person’s experiences from that day.
You recently launched a new project called The Future Market. What is it about?
The Future Market is a conceptual grocery store that imagines what the world of food could look like in the year 2065. Our goal, through a physical pop-up store as well as a virtual one, is to inspire the food industry to dream bigger about what our food could be. The best way to innovate better today is to think more aggressively about tomorrow.
Food Wastage and large-scale, monoculture farming are two of the most important problems the Food industry has to deal with. How does The Future Market tackle these problems?
There’s a lot of ways were exploring to deal with these, but one that’s top of mind is simple in theory but difficult in practice: shifting cultural preferences. We plan to illustrate how consumer knowledge for better food usage, and desire for foods that adhere to the natural rhythms of nature can shift industry away from our current day practices.
Can you tell us about the West Side Campaign Against Hunger? What is your motivation behind working with it?
The West Side Campaign Against Hunger is a supermarket style emergency food pantry that allows those in need “shop” for their own food products. Rather than simply stand in line for a handout, they foster independence and dignity by giving those in need a choice in making their food decisions. It’s a unique model on the emergency food pantry and I love supporting innovative approaches to solving hunger.
Studio Industries is a Food Design and Innovation Agency. What is Food Innovation? How has the market changed for Food Innovators in the past few decades?
Food innovation is simply the act of creating new things for the food industry. This includes anything from the food itself, the packaging, or the production/distribution method. We at Studio Industries do this in a structured, yet creative, way and we’re always aiming to help our clients put something better and original out into the world. Food innovation as a whole has flourished in the past few years, as you see more and more innovators making food their focus. Whereas 10 years ago, you’d see a lot of the innovation attention on the internet/tech sector, there’s a bigger focus on food today.
Tell us about your Studiofeast team and what they do?
The team is myself, Derrick Yuen, and Soomin Baik. Derrick and Soomin work in video production and advertising, respectively, and we all come at Studiofeast as a passion project. Part of the message that Studiofeast sends is that we’re not professional, full-time chefs, rather we’re passionate people with “day jobs” who have pushed the limits of what we can do in the kitchen.
Studiofeast is working in a very niche field. Which people/companies in the field do you look up to? Do you have any competitors?
Studiofeast is a creative endeavor, first and foremost. I don’t consider our contemporaries to be “competitors” because our motives aren’t profit driven. The underground supper club space—in NYC, at least—is more like a loose group of musicians and bands, rather than a set of companies who compete with each other. Having said that, we really admire our friends at a razor, a shiny knife as one of the best out there in this thing of ours.