On 6 March 2017 Brussels welcomed the first edition of Gastronotrends, an event from the Michelin Guide and S.Pellegrino, aimed at gathering a group of Michelin-starred chefs from across Europe to discuss the future of gastronomy.
"The idea was to go beyond the guide and the typical BookATable services," explained Nicolas Beaumont, CEO at Michelin Travel Partner, who had assembled 190 chefs for the day of various workshops at EGG Brussels. "This project was conceived two years ago and tonight we can make an initial positive assessment," added Stefano Agostini, President and CEO of SanPellegrino. "The atmosphere was purposeful, the chefs showed a lot of interest and passion ... that's what we wanted."
To facilitate the day, four experts from a wide variety of backgrounds – 'customer experience', 'digitisation,' 'the clash of cultures' and 'sustainability' – organised workshops for the chefs.
The chefs were thus invited to reflect and exchange on each theme for an hour, following which some clear ideas emerged:
Chefs' Awareness of Environmental Issues
First of all, "the chefs are aware of their responsibility as educators towards their customers," assured Maxime de Rostolan, speaker of the day and coordinator of the Fermes d'avenir (Farms of the Future) project. "It's up to them to explain why you can't eat strawberries throughout the year or why it's best to use local and seasonal produce to get better flavours and reduce impact on the environment," he added.
Chefs Increasingly Turning to Technology
However, this return to nature does not prevent leaders from evolving and looking to the future, especially when considering new technology. Emmanuel Vivier, co-founder of the HUB Institute, found that about 50% of chefs at Gastronotrends used social networks to communicate with their customers.
"Even if this can be frightening, you have to be interested in these kinds of tools because the customers are more and more connected," said the expert. "The world is changing and not being on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram today, is a bit like refusing a dialogue. You can be annoyed by people who post photos of everything they eat on social networks, but they are the same people who advertise chefs by showing their dishes to the rest of the world. Enjoy and share this enthusiasm with them."
The Experience is as Important as the Dishes
Finally, Hervé de Gouvion St-Cyr, director of Luxury Attitude, pushed the chefs into a corner by asking them one simple question: "If tomorrow, you no longer had cooking, what experience could you offer your customers?"
Whilst seeking a reaction, the expert actually wanted to prove to the starred chefs that the service and atmosphere in a restaurant count as much as what is on the plate. "Over time, customers forget about the actual facts, what they have eaten or drank, but the moments remain. The way the waiter treated them, the time the chef took to explain their dish ... All these things are important in a restaurant."
With this in mind, Hervé de Gouvion St-Cyr suggested that the assembled chefs explore creativity and innovation further in order to offer new experiences. "Customers want to feel involved. For example, they can be given the opportunity to pick their own vegetables, if the restaurant has its vegetable garden, or invite them into the kitchens to see the hustle and bustle of a brigade in a star restaurant," suggested the expert.
The chefs left with new lines of thought to try to improve their in-house customer experience, the success of which can be re-visited during the next edition of Gastronotrends.