Doppelganger Dinners on Google+ Hangout: Interview with Mike Lee
Culinary collective Studiofeast is known for thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to food. They've hosted inventive and spectacular events like the L Train Lunch, where a high-end meal was served to guests on a moving train, and the Datalicious Last Supper, where results from a survey of people's desired "last meals" informed the menu.
They've outdone themselves this time with the Doppelganger Dinner. It was a seven course meal, where each course had both an omnivore version and a vegetarian version. To make the menu even tougher to implement, no ingredients were repeated between doppelganger dishes, save for seasoning. The results were nothing short of amazing.
As if this visual feast weren't enough, +Mike Lee of Studiofeast hosted a hangout on Google+ last Sunday to demonstrate how the marrow course was created. The excerpt below shows the plating of the final dishes.
I was really intrigued by how Mike used the hangout as a cooking class and decided to ask him a few questions about the Doppelganger Dinner and Google+.
Q: What is Studiofeast?
A: Studiofeast is a group of individuals who come together to create unique dining experiences for people. There are a few core members who conceive and flesh out the concepts, and then we have a large network of volunteers who help us execute the events. At the end of the day, we want to provide amazing food for people along with a creative story and experience that they can't find anywhere else. Things like the Doppelganger Dinner, the L Train Lunch, etc...that's our way of adding to the overall conversation about what a dining experience means.
Q: What's your culinary background?
A: I am not a professional chef, despite growing up in a restaurant family in Michigan. I've never worked a day in a real kitchen and I raise the flag for the ambitious home chef—I'm completely self taught and have a deep curiosity about flavor and cooking.
Q: What was the inspiration for the Doppelganger Dinner?
A: The inspiration was a couple I knew where one person was a vegetarian and the other was not. I thought about how they've never really been able to share the same dining experience without one compromising for the other. How could I do something for that couple that brought them a bit closer to sharing the same meal without either of them having to relent their veggie/meat ways? That was the inspiration and we built it out into a full 7 course dinner event.
Q: Did you have any thoughts about vegetarians before?
A: Nothing specific—food can taste wonderful no matter what it is, provided it's a good product and you know what to do with it. Our cooking preferences have always leaned heavily on meat, because that's what we love to eat. But this was the first time we've done a vegetarian meal in our 4 years of doing events so it was nice to see some vegetarians in our dining room.
Q: What were some of the greatest challenges of this menu?
A: The trickiest part was composing and testing the dishes. We challenged ourselves by not only making identical meat and vegetarian versions of a dish, but we didn't allow ourselves to re-use any ingredients across the meat/veggie lines except for basic staples like oil and salt. This put a constraint on how we composed dishes. We had to think about ingredients in pairs and anything that didn't have a visual analogue or didn't work into the flavor profile of both dishes was out. This was the greatest challenge, but it was also one of the greatest rewards for us in making this event happen.
Q: What's the next meal you're working on?
A: Too soon to reveal, but we're trying to make an effort to do something much more intimate and personal. We've been going with the big, splashy events for a while and it's time to see what we can do that's really interesting on a small (from an audience standpoint) scale.
Q: How did you get into Google+? What do you think of Google+ so far?
A: I work in digital strategy by day and I'm naturally obsessed with Internet technologies, so it was really a no-brainer that I'm on G+. I think it's great so far and the quality of interaction/conversation has been much more engaging and interesting than the other major social networks. It'll be interesting how the characteristics of the conversations on here change as G+ approaches the sort of scale that Facebook has, which should be very soon.
Q: What are some of your favorite features?
A: Hangouts are a great feature and so are Circles, but I think I'm really liking a lot of the micro UI/UX things that are all over the site. The way you drag/drop users onto a circle, the way you can respond to conversations directly in the main navigation bar drop down menu. I'm a stickler for the details and I think G+ has done the details well.
Q: Is there anything missing from Google+ that you'd like to see?
A: I'm really interested to see what the brand pages will include, above and beyond what we see for individuals. I think hangouts will have more robust broadcasting capabilities—e.g., allowing for a large (10+) audience to observe hangouts, which could be great in making real-time streaming video even more mainstream. The mobile apps I think could be stronger too, but all of this I'm sure is in Google's product roadmap.
Q: Were there any difficulties in setting up the hangout cooking lesson?
A: Not really. The hangout function is so simple to set up and I positioned the laptop in a way that I could talk to the crowd and show them what was happening on the cutting board. We had a full room and people were asking a lot of questions, so it was quite interactive.
Q: How did you record the hangout?
A: I used Snapz X Pro, which created a nice quality video and was easy to use.
Q: What's the next hangout lesson going to be about?
A: Within the week, we'll be doing another one. Most likely on sous vide basics or the science of ice cream. As a platform for extending the stories we tell in our main dinner events, hangouts is great as a platform extension for us. Our dinners will always be the centerpiece for us, but things that are more virtual like hangouts really allow us to show new angles of the things we do.
Q: Who are some great foodies you'd recommend following on Google+?
A: It's lacking so far! All the people I love on Facebook and Twitter (Dave Chang, Ruth Bourdain, Anthony Bourdain, Amanda Hesser, Ideas in Food, Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, etc.) aren't really on G+ yet. +Danielle Gould from Food+Tech Connect is on here though, and she's really diving into G+ as a tool to expand what she does. I guess it takes a foodie/techie hybrid like her to really come on and embrace it early on, as you're not seeing too many food-only personalities on here yet.