Dinner brings New Zealand to you, for a conversation about travel around a long table in a Hong Kong private kitchen
Chef Andrea Oschetti isn’t sure yet how to infuse the Italian dinner he’ll cook next week with Maori elements, but he’s confident his 25 guests and three invited New Zealand Maori artists will find plenty to say to each other about travel
Travel has the potential to broaden our horizons, and entrepreneurial chef cum travel journalist Andrea Oschetti has found a way of getting a mind-altering fix without leaving Hong Kong – by holding dinners designed to spark intelligent conversation about travel.
“We invite our guests to break bread with interesting people from around the world who are able to offer a fresh perspective, not the one you’ll read in a guidebook,” says Oschetti, the founder of Blueflower Travel Company.
This month’s Travel Salon dinner – on August 28 – will see New Zealand Maori artists Jacob Tautari, Leilani Rickard and Rick Peters join guests at Oschetti’s book-filled salon in Wong Chuk Hang, an industrial neighbourhood artists have colonised, for a Maori-inspired three-course Italian meal.
This isn’t about fusion cooking, but about offering a fresh perspective on a place. At the time of writing, Oschetti was still working on how exactly Maori-inspired Italian food would look and taste – but did say one of the central dishes was likely to involve burrata, a semi-soft Italian cheese, covered with edible ingredients such as olives, and made to look like Planet Earth.
“It’s an experiment. It’s very experimental and also very experiential. How do you feel about cutting into the Earth? I would like to share what the Maori has to say about my burrata,” says Oschetti, who has a degree in anthropology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“The important thing about this concept is that we need to perform and participate to get something out of experiencing diversity, rather than by just watching, which is often what happens when we travel or hear a lecture. Food is a universal language and a fantastic connector to be able to understand each other,” says Oschetti.
The Travel Salon can comfortably accommodate 25 guests on a banquet-style table eight metres (26 feet) long. Oschetti prefers not to invite more than that number to events so that all the guests have a chance to talk to each other and swap stories.
The interest will not be limited to the dinner table. Some of the artists’ work will be displayed on the walls, and one of the artists, Tautari, a master in ta moko, the Maori art of tattooing, will tattoo one of the guests. If none of the paying guests wants to be tattooed, several of the kitchen staff have already said they are keen for a permanent, inked souvenir of the evening.
Tautari says what makes ta moko special is that the tattoo is not simply an image or design out of a book, but a unique piece reflective of an individual’s story. “The design of each moko is selected through a korero (conversation) with the artist, with each symbol representing an aspect of that person’s story.
“You’re not going to know what you are going to get until it is finished. Even the artist doesn’t know,” he says.
The August 28 dinner was booked up within 20 minutes of tickets going on sale and there are 150 people on the waiting list, testament to the popularity of the Travel Salon experience. It is not uncommon for Oschetti’s events to sell out fast.
“People very much want this kind of thing. The more people know about it, the more they will demand this type of thing,” he says.
The guests at past Travel Salon events have included Emma Slade, a former HSBC manager turned Bhutanese Buddhist monk, and Java-based anthropologist Patrick Vanhoebrouck, who is an expert on Indonesian shamans known as dukuns.
“The idea is rather than hearing a talk, to sit down and have dinner with this person. Lectures put people in a passive situation; what we do is get people to sit around a dinner table for four hours and exchange views, see different perspectives and get more insight into a destination,” says Oschetti, who gave up a corporate career to pursue his dream of cooking, writing and travelling.
The Travel Salon was inspired by The Living Theatre, an experiential arts movement in New York which began in the late 1940s and took off in the 1970s.
Oschetti plans more such dinners. He does not advertise, but encourages anyone interested in attending to register on his website (www.blueflower.la) to be informed of coming events.