Pop-ups that spin a yarn

Pop-ups that spin a yarn

Three new pop-up dinner series events in town aim to pair vivid story-telling with dishes specially crafted to fit the theme. Debbie Yong and Georgine Verano get behind the plot.

They've helped corporate diners and private hosts put together dinner with a tale for the past three years. Now, Crystal Chua and Stephan Zoisl of private dining outfit My Private Chef want to tell some stories of their own too. In June, they will launch Stories, a series of theatrical pop-up dinners based on historical events and iconic sites in Singapore.

"Stories combines my love for food and my interest in local monuments and history - and conveying them through fine food and wine," says Ms Chua, 39.

At their first dinner to be held on June 26-29 at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, up to 180 diners will be regaled with retellings of the building's illustrious past while seated for a five-course fine-dining meal.

The Fat Duck-trained Zoisl, 33, was previously executive chef of modern European restaurant Novus, and he will send out edible creations crafted to the theme, such as wedges of cod coated in squid ink to resemble the coal pieces prevalent in the station during its heyday.

Spoilt by a penchant for travel, global media exposure and a never-ending onslaught of great restaurants in Singapore, local diners have become a difficult bunch to impress, Ms Chua admits. Hence, a story-based theatrical dining experience would help satiate adventurous diners seeking the unusual. "Our Singapore story may not go back thousands of years like China or Europe, but I would still love to celebrate whatever we have. Few nations can achieve what we have in the last 50 years with what we've got," she says.

Stories is also one of the events to benefit from the Singapore Tourism Board's Kickstart Fund, a $5 million pot launched last June to develop new lifestyle events and concepts with tourism potential.

Though the first two chapters of the pop-up dinner series will be set in national monuments key to the history of Singapore, Stories could eventually grow to work in other narratives around iconic events or history that interest diners here. Other Singapore-based chefs will also be roped in for future meals, though "they must not only be creative, but must live or have lived in Singapore long enough to appreciate Singapore heritage and food culture", she says.

The venue for Stories' second instalment in November will be announced in July, while details for future chapters are still being penned.

The first set of dinners for Stories will run on June 26-29 at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Tickets are priced at $188-$248 and daily dinners seat 180 while weekend lunches accommodate 120 diners each. Tickets can be purchased on www.myprivatechef.com.sg from May 1, 2014. Advanced reservations can be made at dine@myprivatechef.com.sg

Servings of surprise and mystery

The Hideaway

Surprise menu? Been there, done that. How about a surprise menu and a mystery venue, all tied in by an interactive storyline that unfolds over a fine-dining meal.

The latest dinner-meets-theatre event to hit town is The Hideaway, a two Sunday nights-only production targeted at those who seek a bit of Broadway with their bite.

To further engage diners, "each person will have an identity and a reason to be at the dinner", organiser Emily Png reveals coyly. In addition, diners will receive a text only on the day of the pop-up dinner containing clues to lead them to the venue - a fully functioning restaurant in central Singapore that will be given a thematic overhaul for the night.

Up to 80 diners nightly will be seated around large communal tables to "encourage them to start conversations and share the experience together", adds Ms Png.

And the food will be no afterthought. Young chef Aaron Leow, who previously did stints at Noma and hot new Michelin-starred restaurant Studio in Copenhagen, will send out four New Nordic Kitchen-inspired courses, all tweaked to flow with the storyline.

Ms Png, 24, a fashion merchandiser and her fiance, studio engineer Stuart Wee, 27, say they started events company And So Forth after attending similar events organised by Secret Cinema and nomadic restaurant Gingerline, while holidaying in London last year.

Though Singapore lacks the grungy underground spaces, history-seeped buildings and thriving theatre-going culture of London, the couple are plugging on with the hope that And So Forth can serve as a platform to showcase budding local talents.

The dinner's plot was penned by Mingyu Lin, a London-based Singaporean professional scriptwriter who co-founded a film production company there, while local actors Daphne Quah, Edward Choy and Windson Liong will headline as the dinner show's main characters.

Acting students from LaSalle College of the Arts will double as waitstaff to maximise the interactive experience and the rest of the team of set designers, menu illustrators and costume makers similarly comprise young talents in their 20s. Dinners cost $125 per person, "about the price you'd pay to watch a show, except you'll be in the show too", says Ms Png. Depending on the response for their first run, the duo hope to organise future dinner-theatre events around other stories.

"With more pop-up shops and food trucks starting up in the last few months, it's an indication that people want something more interesting to do on the weekends," she adds.

The Hideaway by And So Forth will take place on May 11 & 18. Dinners will seat 80 each night and cost $125 per person, with additional alcohol purchase available. Tickets and more information from www.andsoforth.com.sg

Bringing the Game to the table

Geek Crusade

Geek alert: you may have been a closet fan of your favourite books and shows in the past, but you no longer have to stand alone.

Thanks to Gillian Ang and Nicholas Yong, co-founders of pop culture website Geek Crusade, you can now gush over your favourite works of literature while breaking bread with fellow fans.

As part of the site's new Dinner is Coming literary supperclub spin-off, the duo held their first Game of Thrones-inspired dinner at Italian restaurant No Menu earlier this month. The television series, an adaptation of the book series of the same name, has gained many followers in Singapore, and the meal was timed with the start of the show's fourth season.

"We realised fandoms (fan-kingdoms) of books and shows were getting larger, and that people were more interested in cosplay. So we wanted to plan a themed dinner to bring fans together over food, the two things people like in Singapore," says Ms Ang, 28, an avid Game of Thrones fan herself. "We've read all the books and watched all the episodes. We wanted to eat what they ate, have the same experience."

With myriad depictions of lavish feasts in the book and show, such as the purple wedding - a wedding feast of two of the characters - that inspired the first dinner, organising a dinner to bring like-minded folk "just felt appropriate", she says.

Everything on the menu was taken directly from the books and it was not hard to recreate the dishes, since food was described on almost every page of the books, she adds. For example, the dessert of pears poached in red wine was inspired by a line from A Clash of Kings, one of the books, that went: "While singers sang and tumblers tumbled, they began with pears poached in wine."

"I think Singaporeans are actually adventurous people, and after awhile, they want more than simple dinners," says Ms Ang, who adds that the response was surprisingly positive. All 53 tickets were sold out, and despite it being a Tuesday night, all the attendees showed up - many even thematically togged out. One of the costumed attendees was Sheril Norzali, 26, who spent more than $250 to dress up as her favourite character, Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons.

"I was excited that such an event would be taking place in Singapore," she says, adding that she was happy to make new friends despite not knowing most of the other diners at her table.

The chef of No Menu, Osvaldo Forlino, also took part in the fun. Hailing from Piedmont, an area with strong mediaeval roots, Mr Forlino was thrilled when Ms Ang approached him with the idea. He adds that his family, especially his wife and youngest daughter, are fans of the show.

According to Ms Ang, a second Game of Thrones dinner will be held in a fortnight for fans who couldn't get a spot at the first, this one fashioned on a theme of a feast thrown by one of the Kings in the series. They hope to hold dinners based on other cult works such as Hannibal or The Hunger Games in the future.

Dinner is Coming's second dinner, titled Welcome to King's Landing, will be held on May 5 and seats 30 people. Prices from $95 nett (booking fees not included). For more information, go to www.geekcrusade.com/dinner-is-coming

This article was published on April 26 in The Business Times.

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