Hybrid meetings sent shockwaves through the industry when they started to gain traction back in the early noughties and, with the ever-increasing appeal of live streaming and virtual technologies, have since cemented their place in the business events industry.
But when it comes to audience engagement, how can event planners blend the offline and online worlds to create a truly immersive experience?
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) may have found the solution: Host a virtual dinner party. Food has an undeniable power to bring people together and the dinner table has long served as a community gathering point, so when STB launched its new Passion Made Possible brand in Australia last week, it did away with the usual cocktail tables and roving canapés. Instead the tourism board hosted a series of immersive AU x SG Foodies Dinners that connected food lovers in Singapore and Sydney simultaneously.
More than 100 diners joined celebrity chefs Malcom Lee and Janice Wong from Singapore, and Adam Liaw and Anna Polyviou in Australia for a specially designed menu that celebrated local flavours, albeit with a modern twist.
Held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore and Sydney, the experimental dinner format saw guests seated across seven tables with corresponding TV screens that streamed video and audio so diners in both cities could mingle in real-time despite the 6,300-kilometre distance.
Embodying the Passion Made Possible brand, which celebrates the stories of exceptional Singaporeans, Malcolm Lee, founder of the world’s only Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, teamed up with Masterchef Australia winner Adam Liaw to recreate the famed Hainanese Chicken Rice. Combining their passion for heritage cooking, the dish featured unexpected flavours from another of Singapore’s iconic dishes, chilli crab, with a whimsical sambal chilli element that teased the palate.
Commenting on the collaboration, Lee said: “Adam and I designed this dish with love and inspiration from our own childhoods. While the Peranakan style of cooking that I’m used to is careful, indulgent and luxurious, Adam’s Hainanese background results in dishes that are fun, creative and exciting. The fusion of both styles means a fresh and compelling plate of chicken rice that offers the best of both worlds.”
For dessert, culinary artist Janice Wong worked with Anna Polyviou, known as Australia’s punk princess of pastry, to serve up a multi-sensory ‘Passion-ate Singapore’ dessert inspired by Polyviou’s recent trip to the Lion City.
Wong said: “I love to tell stories through food, and my country Singapore has given me so many stories to tell. Working with Anna has been an exciting journey allowing us to explore and narrate Singapore’s culture via culinary art.
“Our Passion-Ate-Singapore dessert embodies the city’s year-round tropical climate with fresh fruits like pandan, kaya, coconut, lychee and passionfruit; the myriad shapes and textures of the dish reference Singapore’s innovative architecture. Another element inspired by Singapore is the fairy floss with edible flowers, which pays homage to our ‘City in a Garden’ reputation.”
Service throughout the dining experience was carefully synchronised so guests in both Sydney and Singapore could enjoy their meals together while they shared stories of their food and travel experiences. And after service, chefs in both cities joined guests at the dinner table to answer questions and share their culinary expertise.
The Passion Made Possible brand, which has been rolled out across 18 countries, identifies market segments by ‘tribes’ instead of the usual age/sex demographics – with the Australian market identified as a ‘Foodie Tribe’.
STB’s assistant chief executive, Lynette Pang, said: “Through this unique dinner party, we are bringing Singaporean and Australian foodies ‘together’ to sample specially-created dishes by four of the finest chefs in both countries. This is part of STB’s aim to deliver engaging, different and creative experiences as we roll out the Passion Made Possible brand in Australia.”
As well as forging cross-cultural bonds (and further proving the virtues of hybrid events), STB’s dining experiment should also serve as a lesson in creative meeting design. Event planners take note!