Highly stylised, visually striking, thought provoking – the realms of fashion and fine dining are more intrinsically linked than you might expect.
Both art forms are inherently rooted in the visual, something celebrated chef Mike Bagale knows better than most. Bagale became a driving force in Chicago’s culinary culture while serving as Executive Chef at Alinea – the city’s only three-Michelin starred establishment. Rising through the ranks over the last decade, he is credited with a leading role in placing Alinea on the gastronomic map.
Bagale’s reputation shone, thanks in no small part, to the development of his signature edible balloon – a playful interpretation of a collective childhood nostalgia – a creation that is “familiar to the eye, but unfamiliar to cuisine”.
Since his departure from Alinea in May last year, he has turned to pastures new, embarking on a period of extended travel in search of the next great source of inspiration, wherever it should surface. Up next? An immersive experience at ArtisTree in Hong Kong.
He sets his sights on a highly stylised, conceptual experience that brings guests out of the conventional dining room and into a unique setting. The Beyond Dinner is a culinary accompaniment to Beyond Fashion, an exhibition showing at ArtisTree that features fashion photography from 48 notable artists, and the dinner draws inspiration from these works.
One of the challenges Bagale faced designing the menu was the notion of fluidity. “I want it to be seamless,” he says. “I didn’t want people to finish this gallery and this exhibit and then walk into a restaurant. I wanted them to continue the journey and feel like they were still part of this dynamic.”
Though inspired by the exhibition in its entirety, he says, “there isn’t any specific dish related to any specific piece of art”. Instead, Bagale has sought to channel the emotive power behind the imagery. In preparation for the dining series, he explains, “I allowed myself to absorb [the artworks] in the same way I always do with my food. I studied the pieces for a while and let them affect me. I wanted to do the best that I could to translate that onto the plate”.
The culinary experience begins with three canapes – Diamond, Sphere and Moonrock – each monochromatic in presentation, yet anything but on the palate. The edible diamond amuse-bouche (infused with the flavours of a pina colada) was a fixed feature for Bagale, who conceived the dish before arriving in Hong Kong. “It just felt very Vogue, it felt very fashion, it felt very whimsical,” he says.
The six-course tasting menu follows, with a series of illuminated ice orbs featuring – among other culinary creations – compressed pears and shiso tacos, while another course plays with the textures and flavours of umami.
“I wanted the food to be very thought provoking, and I wanted the guests to […] think about how they wanted to eat it, and what it even was,” adds the chef. Each dish – including the concluding trademark edible balloon – has been carefully curated, furthering Bagale’s quest to blur the boundary between food and art. It’s a rare privilege to sample a menu that takes food to a next level experience – it’s almost beyond food. And perhaps, that’s the whole point.