Montrealer Nicolas Fonseca combined his love of technology, exceptional food and meaningful experiences in founding In the Mouth. His team specializes in experimental food events involving communal suppers and interactive installations. Next month, they’ll make their New York debut for the opening night Food Loves Tech (tickets here!), where he’ll team up with Audi and chef José Andrés to design a one-of-a-kind meal.
We caught up with Nicolas to learn more about the In the Mouth experience:
Edible Manhattan: Supper clubs and invite-only dinner parties have been increasingly popular over the past few years. Tell us how In the Mouth is upping the excitement.
Nicolas Fonseca: Well, to start, food is an integral part of my most treasured memories. I enjoy playing with food, making it and what food brings out in people. At some point I realized I wanted to incorporate food into my professional life, which was a total mixed bag of film, digital and art installations. I began using food as a medium for events, mixing it with technology, using screens and headphones to make it interactive. In the Mouth is a series of events in which we tell stories through food. Every event is unique because the guests bring different experiences and memories to it. We’re creating very social events that try to reconnect people with the culture of food—whether it’s recalling memories of family and friends or through a broader food culture.
EM: Your motivation for creating In the Mouth sounds pretty personal. Can you tell us more about why focusing on food is so important to you?
NF: It definitely is personal. For me, sharing a meal is so central to who I am. Food is often discussed in silos: ecology, economy, health, fashion, aesthetic. None of these need to be disparate parts. Through the experiences we’re creating with In the Mouth, I want to reinvent how we break bread together, how we engage as a group of strangers over a meal. Engaging with the people and faces around you is really central to our growth and doing it through these various relationships to food is evokes a response that reconnects us to our core as human beings.
EM: It’s interesting because in the days of social media, technology can often cause a rift when sharing a meal with friends. How do you challenge that notion?
NF: A lot of the time the technology is hidden, whether I’m using a database of guests and their preferences and other information we’ve requested before the meal. I’m always thinking about what type of experience can I offer people that still allows them to engage and get to know people and each other’s values toward food.
One experience that we’ve been rolling out is called Food Session; it’s like a silent disco for your tongue. For the first portion of the meal, you have headphones on and every person at the table is synced up to the same soundtrack. The only communication during that portion is to share your experience on a communal screen at the end of the table. People often share intimate insights or moments because they’re doing so on their own and not in a forced dinner-party sort of way. We like to think that this particular use of technology puts guests in touch with what we call your emotional taste. Rather than seeing comments like, it tastes salty or warm or strong, we see “It tastes like a sunny day,” “it feels like fireworks,” or “it smells like my aunt’s cottage.” During dessert of this same experience, guests remove their headphones and go from having a really singular experience to intense and personal conversations in a completely unmediated way.
EM: This is definitely far from standard dinner party conversation.
NF: Absolutely. I think we can all agree that any time you’re at a cocktail or dinner party with strangers, there’s a very set and rigid structure to how conversations go: what do you do, where are you from, etc. There’s nothing worse than being stuck next to someone for an entire dinner to whom you have nothing to say. I wanted to take that varnished layer out and create experiences that resembled the kind of conversation that take place in the kitchen around the stove when no one actually wants to leave and sit down at the table.
EM: My favorite food memories definitely involve being huddled around a kitchen island with friends where we can’t be bothered to plate food and all share from the same communal bowls. But that only works with a smaller group. What are some events you’ve done for a lot of people?
NF: We’ve done an event with a 50 foot long communal table and no one knows what they’re eating unless they’re talking to people. This is one of the events where technology is used but hidden. I’ll send around questions that help create a culinary biography for every guest and we’ll construct a meal about that. So, to know what you’re eating you’ll have to talk to other people at the table to hear about what they like and what some of their food memories are.
EM: Not knowing what’s in front of you is definitely excited. Are you working with the same chefs each event or do you like to collaborate with new partners?
NF: I’m always looking to collaborate with new chefs. In Montreal, we have a core team but when we’re in new cities, I like to meet local chefs and work with them on the experience. I’m always hunting down the people I want to work with.
EM: Outside of Montreal, where can people get the In the Mouth experience?
NF: I’ve done ticketed events in France. In the U.S., they’re mostly private. Our New York premiere will actually be at Food Loves Tech.
EM: To anyone who may be intimidated by this type of experience, what do you have to say?
NF: I think once you offer people a context, kind of like playing in a sandbox, once you’re given that new framework and ask them to come play with you, they will. That’s what’s fun about these experiences. We’re doing two or three different things at the same time. When you visit a museum, you’ll often check out the artist or subject on the internet to learn more. I think we’re ready for the same complex experiences while eating. We’ve already seen how design and culinary intersect, so I think we’re ready to add in art and technology. We are ready to interact with people in other days. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who enjoys going through the motions at dinner parties. They’re too predictable. We’re ready to engage.