12 guests, 12 courses and 12 acts. Food and wine chosen and created specifically for each stage of a multi-sensory experience: el Somni - the culinary opera developed by the Roca Brothers from El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Spain - was one of the most exciting dining experiences of 2013. While it was the chefs who were in charge of plates such as The Moon and The Air, it was the multidisciplinary artist Franc Aleu who had the job of bringing el Somni to life. The project included composers, artists, singers, musicians, a whole range of disciplines alongside cuisine and it was Aleu who had the job of designing the dream.
The visual and audio artist created the projections that were placed on the table, walls and plates, helped to build el Somni and directed the overall performance. I caught up him outside the el Somni exhibition in Girona to discuss his work on the project, what he would like to do with dining in the future and how he came to work with the owners of the world's best restaurant.
"6 years ago I came here to visit them for a project they were doing which was the story of Jason and The Argonauts, then we built a strong connection. We shared the idea to make the goal of Messi: the idea here being that you can eat also with the brain." The dish pays homage to a famous goal of the Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi with guests smashing a meringue net to get into their dessert, complete with edible grass, players and the sounds of radio commentary from the goal.
At the time Aleu was working with a number of operas in Barcelona, Vienna, Buenos Aires and Milan. Creating unique audio and visual projections for shows and working with new techniques for mapping visual projections onto the walls of buildings. It wasn't until three years after meeting the Rocas that the idea for el Somni was born, a project that Aleu sees as just the beginning.
"For me it's like opening a door, a door that's opening to make new projects like this. I think it will be something that is necessary now. I'm not a gastronomist, but I think that everything now has to be connected and mixed: technologies with all kinds of directions. I think that the experience of eating can be amplified in a way, really it's not necessary because you eat some creations and that's enough for sure, maybe it's better not to be so distracted. But, if you organize and you want to explain something you can integrate food inside stories. It's a mix between rationality and emotionality, everything together, it's not easy to do. We tried to find the limits of what is comfortable and what is beautiful to experience or not."
It's obvious that for Aleu el Somni is just the beginning. He wants to push diners further: "I would like to be more radical in the interactivity with the guests. I would like them to decide on the green or the red pill, you come back, you go out, everything is like a game where you have a response to what they do. Depending on your decisions you have one dinner or the other, everyone is eating different things. Also we could make something in life, why not something touching you?"
"For me it's a dream to involve all the arts together to create one instance of emotion, it's like Faust in a way. I would like to make the Sistine Chapel with animation and then to create an environment where everything boggles you, you can eat inside and everything is some kind of experience. It will be very difficult for me to do, I'm looking for a church but it's in maybe 10 years when we do it."
With the convergence of technology and food a big theme throughout 2013 and a number of chefs now looking towards interactivity and multi-sensory experiences, the off-the-plate movement continues to grow. Something Aleu warns we must be careful about: "In the end the problem will be that there will be projections on all the tables." He looks over and smiles before finishing: "Please waiter, take away these videos, I want to eat my soup".