Jenny Dorsey is a professional chef and creative based in New York City, currently running her own culinary consulting business. She is also the founder, culinary lead and creative director of Studio ATAO, a not-for-profit production studio that designs content & experiences fusing food with emerging technology, especially augmented & virtual reality.
She uses VR Casting with SPIN Studio to present projects to her guests, and we wanted to talk to her about how she got involved with VR, and her experiences with the VR space!
How did you first discover VR (tell us about your epiphany?) | What inspired you to combine AR/VR and cooking?
This sounds rather silly, but I was literally in acupuncture ruminating about what I wanted to do in food. I knew I wanted to do something like a production studio, to make creative content within food that was meaningful and interesting…but what was that exactly? I woke up in the middle of my session (with needles and all) with this sudden idea like “VR! YES!” I ran home to my husband to tell him about my discovery and he was…confused to the say the least. Supportive, but very confused (“um, what’s VR? What does it have to do with food?”). Honestly, when I started I had no idea what it had to do with food either. I tried different iterations of what makes sense VR + food wise. Eating with headsets on obviously did not work well (YET!) so how else could the VR make the food better, more interesting, more nuanced somehow? Those are the questions I’m always trying to answer.
How do you see others incorporating explore this new medium in the kitchen?
I just saw that Oculus did a paired VR + food dinner so I think that as the headsets become more commonplace, we’ll see more of that. I’m also talking to a company in Germany about doing more sensitive tracking so that guests could feasibly eat with the headsets on, which could be really cool. I’d like to do something documentary style that way — for instance, showing how scary it is for those crossing the border to the U.S. in search for a safe place to live and how they are ‘eating’ during their journey. Or maybe contrasting eating as the 1% of the top vs. the bottom. Something that would really use VR to make people uncomfortable as they eat.
What are your current projects?
My main project right now is “Asian in America”. In short, it’s a symbolic 6 course meal that explores the complex narrative of the Asian American identity through food & drink, virtual reality, spoken word performance and poetry. Half of the courses are presented with my poetry and the other half have been recreated in VR through Tilt Brush, a VR painting platform, accompanied with spoken word performance. I chose all the ingredients and cooking techniques carefully to have double meanings, which the guests uncover throughout the meal — the courses are:
- “You Make Asian Food, Right?”
- Model Minority
- Fancy Because It’s French
Asian in America is debuting at the Museum of Food & Drink in NYC next week (Aug 15) and hopefully traveling around North America after that!
My next project after Asian in America is a piece titled “HIDDEN” that I’m working with a choreographer on. The idea is to uncover pieces of ourselves we usually hide throughout the course of an evening, using both VR dance film, live dance performance, with paired food & drink.
Course number 6 from Asian in America, “Fancy Because It’s French”. Check out the medium article Jenny wrote for more information on this project!
Tell us about Truth // Reality — how are you going to execute the integration of concepts like race and income disparity into your dishes?
This is still a work in progress, hopefully debuting next year. Every course is paired with a pointed short VR film that talks about a certain topic (i.e. unconscious bias and racism) and then paired with a dish that reflects that. For instance, think about the aspect of revisionist history in the U.S. — and think of how that would look on a dish. Perhaps 2 dishes with the same roots priced at very different price points? Perhaps one of them is plated on a broken plate shackled to a porcelain column. How would that make you feel?
How do you see VR’s place in the smart kitchen?
It’s not quite there yet, but I think it could be a useful way to teach people how to cook in the comfort of their own kitchens. Traditional videos already made a big difference to how people understand cooking, and VR can push that further by making people really immersed in the scenario. I think ultimately it needs to be a mix of AR and VR, but VR training at restaurants has started to show how useful unlimited iterations practicing certain techniques can be.
What has working with VR and Food taught you? (…about technology/about life?) | What has it taught you about yourself/your own human experience?
This is an interesting question. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you want to do something, even if no one has really quite paved a path for you, it can be done. That art is meant to be made across medium and new technology is there so we can create. Sometimes things don’t work quite the way you think, and sometimes they don’t work at all, but just doing the iterations has expanded my mindset on what creativity means.
— Jenny Dorsey (@chefjennydorsey) August 8, 2018
How did you learn about Pixvana and why did you decide to use SPIN Studio?
I was looking for a hands-off VR casting solution that would help me cast my VR work onto multiple guest headsets during my dinners that wasn’t a gazillion dollars, and was SO glad I found Pixvana!
What was your experience using SPIN Studio?
It’s been wonderful. The automatic sensors and auto-play has been huge.
About Jenny Dorsey
Jenny Dorsey is a professional chef and creative, based in New York City. She uses VR and AR in combination with food to evoke introspection, empathy, and real emotion in her customers. Her mission is to use food to express the full range of human emotions, as a powerful medium for storytelling, and a place for genuine interaction. She started her career as a management consultant in the fashion industry, before becoming the youngest MBA candidate at Columbia Business School, and now runs her own culinary consulting business. She won the Beat Bobby Flay in 2016, and as well as a great deal of other awards, details for which can be found on her website.
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