“Dining is an experiential affair, that marriage of food, atmosphere, service and engagement connect themselves to an emotion. That emotion forms a memory and hopefully one that the guest relays as being a special memory in their life. It is our job to create an experience that is memorable.”
Restaurant Industry News spoke with Duncan Fraser-Smith the Vice President of Food & Beverage at The First Group and Jane Smith, the Group Director Brand Licensing & Gaming at Endemol Shine Group all about MasterChef: The TV Experience
What is MasterChef, the TV Experience and what does it involve?
Duncan Fraser-Smith: MasterChef, the TV Experience is a restaurant with the DNA of MasterChef the TV show at its core. It is an opportunity for people to come and experience some of the dishes created by MasterChef Finalists and Champions from across the world and relive those moments in this world first screen-to-plate dining sensation.
Jane Smith: The restaurant is a key strategic move for us as we look to further grow the MasterChef brand in the experiential space. We’ve already had success with some pop-up dining and more recently a MasterChef restaurant in Madrid. We wanted to develop a slightly different concept that was closer to the TV show that audiences watch and enjoy around the world, giving them the opportunity to experience MasterChef as a real participant rather than a passive viewer.
How was the idea born?
DF-S: A little over 2 years I had just finished watching MasterChef Australia Season 8. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote on a piece of paper next to the bed “MasterChef restaurant?” When I approached the team at Endemol Shine Group and conveyed how I wanted this outlet to engage with the consumers on an emotional level, celebrating these amazing stories of home cooks that have gone on to produce extraordinary food, we agreed we could work together to make this a reality.
JS: We had been looking at a series of recent pop-ups and how we could develop a more permanent presence for MasterChef in the restaurant space. Working with the right partners is such an important part of this strategy and that was our main area of focus. We know the brand is perfect for this space and could be executed creatively, so when we met Duncan and The First Group and they truly shared our belief and passion in MasterChef, we found the right home. They also bring the skills, relationships and experience needed to make MasterChef, the TV Experience a success as a restaurant concept.
Why was Dubai the choice of location?
DF-S: Dubai is fast becoming a global gastronomic and dining hub with a wealth of different nationalities and cultures. MasterChef, the TV Experience cannot be pinned down into one cuisine type as the food that is heroed in the outlet comes from the passion and motivation of the Finalists and Champions. It truly is a multicuisine experience. Dubai is also renowned for being a pioneer in so many ways that the decision to base the world’s first flagship outlet made perfect sense.
JS: We were confident in Dubai as a destination for a number of reasons. The quality of F&B and dining outlets is of the highest standard and it’s at the centre of the world, so where better for MasterChef to be? There is also a fabulous mix of cultures and culinary flavours and all of these combined make Dubai feel like a place that MasterChef, the TV Experience can find a home.
JS: We are also looking at a number of other locations as we look to rollout the concept with additional restaurants.
Is it similar to the programme MasterChef, and what are the differences or adaptations?
DF-S: The DNA of the programme is felt the minute you step into the dining space. This is a restaurant and not a TV Show, and yet there are elements that are instantly recognisable. The room itself has been designed based on the set so its rustic industrial feeling is evident in the finishes. The iconic clock is placed in the centre of the room and has become one of the key photo opportunities for guests. Simple nuances like actually using a chef’s knife for the serving of our signature meat dishes brings that element of authenticity to the space.
What are the aims of the experience, and can people get involved at all?
DF-S: There are many ways the guest can get involved in the experience. The menu has been curated by MasterChef Champions and Finalists from key markets across the globe. The menu is condensed from over 120 dishes that were gathered from workshops in the UK, US and Australia, where the Champions sat around a table and shared the motivation and connection behind each dish. Every dish has a story behind it, whether it was someone’s grandmother who inspired them, or a celebratory judge remarked during that it was one of the best dishes they had tasted in the competition. Guests get to experience that and rekindle that memory. In addition, those that contributed to the menu will be coming to Dubai to partake in weekly residencies. We will be offering a special 5 course tasting menu that hero’s that particular Champions cuisine, and guests will be able to ask questions and interact with the chef. Finally, there is the ‘Mystery Box’ which can be ordered. The box comes to the table with 10 unseen ingredients, the guests can choose 5 of those to be made into a singularly unique dish for themselves and the chefs have 35 minutes to create that dish. At the end of the meal, guests will receive the recipe for it so they can try the dish at home. As you can see there are many ways for people to engage with and partake in the experience.
JS: It was key for us to keep a connection between the TV show and the restaurant experience. Working with our amazing MasterChef talent seemed like an obvious place to start and also wanted an authentic restaurant experience rather than a novelty experience where the food is secondary. We believe we have struck just the right balance with an incredible menu with a MasterChef twist.
Is it important to continually develop new initiatives?
DF-S: I think the dining public at large are always looking toward the next and latest and best. Our philosophy, especially with this concept, is that it can continually evolve. There will always be new Champions from different regions to augment the menu offering and MasterChef, as a show, continues to push the boundaries of food, we are fortunate to be able to bring that then to the public.
JS: The MasterChef show continually evolves on-screen with new challenges, themes, locations and talent. We will be able to take from these and incorporate elements into the restaurant as we go, delivering a truly authentic brand partnership.
Is there a variety of different foods available?
DF-S: As I mentioned previously we are so fortunate to be non-cuisine specific. MasterChef Australia Champion Diana Chan’s dishes hark back to her Asian background. MasterChef UK Champion Saliha Mahmood Middle Eastern influence shines through in her food. We are fortunate to be able to cater to most requirements and desires.
Do you think it is important to create an experience with food?
DF-S: Absolutely, dining is an experiential affair, that marriage of food, atmosphere, service and engagement connect themselves to an emotion. That emotion forms a memory and hopefully one that the guest relays as being a special memory in their life. It is our job to create an experience that is memorable.
JS: We know from our MasterChef audience that their experience following contestants on their journey is what connects them to the show. Being able to take this emotion into your own MasterChef dining experience with menus from the contestants and mystery boxes, is a unique opportunity that will create memories for existing and new fans.
It is interesting to see how new ideas are being developed through immersive experience, is this the future of food and dining?
DF-S: I have said many times before, we are in the Eatertainment business. It is our job to ensure that guests who go to our venues are suitably engaged without being overbearing. Consumers as a whole have become more and more educated on what to expect from dining experiences. The taste of the steak is now just as important as where it was sourced. The Future of food and dining will, without doubt, have the experience as its foundation moving forward.
JS: We see MasterChef as a brand perfectly positioned to deliver diners a positive, immersive experience. We know from our global audience of more than 300 million fans, what they enjoy and hopefully we can continue to stay ahead of the curve and offer the experiences they are looking for.
Are there any interesting, unique features this will include?
DF-S: You will have to wait and see….