[Sponsored article] Not too long ago, the quality of the food was the primary consideration for gauging one’s dining experience, with factors such as service and ambience less important. But not any more. Culinary trends over the past few years show that diners now want more than simply great food. They crave unique experiences and often go to great lengths to sate such desires – even if it means spending large sums of money so they can nibble on bread evoking the final moments of Pompeii or sip fine whisky while virtually hunting grouse in the Scottish Highlands. Interest in experiential dining has been rising steadily around the world, including Malaysia, and entrepreneur Joanne Kua says its popularity may have much to do with the changing goals and expectations of younger diners. “The next generation is looking for a truly unique experience when going out to eat,” says Kua, managing director of KSK Land, one of Malaysia’s leading property developers. “Millennials, particularly, believe that ‘a new experience’ is an important feature when choosing a place to eat.” Malaysia’s culinary scene was already known for being diverse and colourful before experiential dining began to grow in popularity. However, over the past few years a surge in the number of its food and beverage (F&B) venues looking to “pair” exquisite fare with unique experiences, such as dining in total darkness or at secret, secluded locations, had created an added vibrancy to the industry – until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Restaurateurs in Malaysia and around the world have been wrestling with an uncertain future and the threat of closure because of the continuing spread of the coronavirus disease, Covid-19, for much of 2020. Yet now, as Malaysia looks ahead to the lifting and easing of the restrictions on travel and social distancing, more and more F&B business owners are keen to embrace innovation as the key to staying both in business – and highly relevant. KSK Land – recognising that capital and cash flow could prove stumbling blocks to reinvention and survival during this time of flux – is playing its part in helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) rebound. Its Platter Accelerator programme, which was recently launched, aims to promote and sustain the growth of SMEs in the F&B sector in Malaysia and abroad through financial support, industry mentoring and technical assistance, as well as the prospect of a five-year tenancy in Platter – Malaysia’s first experience-driven dining hall. Situated within 8 Conlay, KSK’s landmark lifestyle property, in the heart of the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, Platter is being positioned as a premier experiential dining destination featuring culinary artists from around the world. The accelerator programme will offer young restaurateurs a seat at the table. “This is a bid to nurture shared experience and exemplify cross-industry collaborations between young business owners in the field of F&B,” Kua, who also serves as KSK Group’s CEO, says. To qualify for the programme, applicants must have been in operation for at least two years, with a financial break-even recorded in their accounts. Additionally, the businesses must display growth potential, unique culinary concepts and, most importantly, compelling brand stories. KSK Land’s role will be to provide all-round support, including financial backing, with loans of 100,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$23,850) to successful SME applicants that form part of Platter’s F&B offerings when it opens its doors in 2021. Kua says these businesses will be nurtured and mentored by seasoned industry experts offering guidance and support on everything from brand building and franchising to financial planning. More significantly, KSK Land will seek to position successful brands alongside illustrious names in global gastronomy and hospitality, such as Alvin Leung, the two-star-Michelin-winning chef, and Kempinski, the renowned, 122-year-old European hotel brand, which will form an important part of 8 Conlay. “Kempinski’s reputation in the global hospitality scene is unparalleled, making it the ideal candidate to be part of such a meaningful project,” Kua says, adding that the one-stop nature of 8 Conlay will see it serve as a stage for guests and residents to explore a confluence of cultures and narratives. She says that while the Platter Accelerator programme offers support to emerging companies and young business owners, it also aims to provide a boost to the F&B sector as a whole. It means that established restaurateurs from around the world are welcome to be part of the culinary journey. Kua hopes that participants in the programme can help realise the vision of both Platter and Malaysia emerging as among the most important destinations for culinary trailblazers. “The Platter Accelerator programme is the first of its kind, and we believe that it will nurture a whole new generation of culinary experience experts and inspire generations to come,” Kua says. To find out more about the programme, send your query to email@example.com .