Virtual reality, food, and fantasy combine for a mind-altering dining experience

NEW YORK CITY -- Imagine going to a restaurant for your favorite cuisine and being magically transported to a country of your choice? What if Virtual Reality could bring you into places or even worlds that you've never experienced?

Well, now that experience is possible at the James Beard House in New York City. Inspired by the Futurist Cookbook, an Italian collection of surreal recipes published in 1932, artist Mattia Casalegno has partnered with the James Beard House to present Aerobanquets RMX.

"We create fun and exciting spaces so that people can come in and have that awesome dining experience," said Producer and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar.

Aerobanquets RMX, conceived by Casalegno in 2018, is a series of augmented dining experiences focused on taste perception in virtual reality. The project is a multi-sensory journey on both a physical and virtual level that has had previous successful installations in South Korea and China.

The artistic experience is installed on the fourth floor of the house, but the climb is only the beginning for the four guests who enter together. Upon arrival, the waiting area gives little indication of what's to come.

James Beard House General Manager, Adam Jaffe, took our Producer Toby Hershkowtiz through the virtual journey, so he could experience it first-hand. "The more that you kind of trust and commit to the experience, the more you're going to get out of it," said Jaffe.

After being greeted and ushered into the waiting area, guests enter an unassuming room and are given Oculus headsets to wear; then the magic begins. An image appears before them as they embark on their journey, narrated by Top Chef's Gail Simmons, with a soundtrack by Martux M. and Paul D. Miller.

"You are creating your environment, you're manipulating the space and everything that's around you, to create that story and move that forward," said Mazumdar.

Guests are taken through several abstract scenes, where they can interact with virtual objects, including representations of food. Each scene culminates in a "bite" from an exclusive menu curated by renowned chef Chintan Pandya of Rahi and Adda Indian Canteen, portrayed digitally but consumed in reality, allowing guests to proceed through the experience.

"What if you could be swimming with the fishes... and have dinner?" asked Pandya. "Would that be possible? The answer is yes."

Virtual reality, food, and fantasy combine for a mind-altering, 40-minute, otherworldly experience that calls "reality", a negotiation between our expectations and what our senses make of our environments, into question.

Aerobanquets RMX reprograms all of our perceptive expectations. Through multi-sensory engagement, participants experience a unique and complex array of feelings, colored by their interpretations and responses.

"You have to be crazy, you have to be mad. And that's how you start this project," said Pandya.