Gastronomic is a stunning contradiction. It sweeps us 37,000 feet into the air only to remind us that our most intimate memories and identities are rooted in the land like crops.
We enter, take our seats around a dining table/conveyor belt and place headphones on. Our table encircles a reconstruction of an aeroplane kitchen. Three chefs greet us warmly, offering us a basket of breads from around the world, and wildflower butter served on a skimming stone. This dish is called The Seven Seas. We are about 40 people in total.
Before ‘take off’ we are invited to enjoy fizzy champagne and grapefruit whipped cream. Raising small skillets into the air like a toast and there are murmurs of delight through the room. This atmosphere of togetherness continues through the show.
We join Luca (Craig Hamilton), Nora (Georgina Strawson) and Agat (Ani Nelson), chefs aboard a Beirut to London flight as they prepare a five-course culinary delight for passengers in first class. What begins as a brief history of dining and air travel, blossoms into a story of love, friendship, immigration and sacrifice that surpasses national borders in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world. It is a freeing illusion to hover over the Earth above division and politics. In this moment we are simply passengers and chefs enjoying a meal together.
The cast of three are exceptional. They play multiple characters with profound sensitivity. They are witty, emotive and perfectly illustrate the unique artistry and significance that food plays in our lives.
The script alternates between meal preparation on the flight and scenes of airport security at Heathrow that are tipped off to an extra passenger on board. Each character also shares poetic monologues with the rapt audience about their personal connections to food, and the dishes being served. Flashbacks and historical fact blend like flavours over our tongues. My notebook sits forgotten by my side.
At one point Luca catches my eye. The gentle beauty of the music pairs with his descriptions of the cultural significance of sharing food in Beirut. Through his words I am transported to memories of my Turkish upbringing, and a lump rises in my throat.
The show employs a beautiful mix of effects to create a story that is as intimate as it is universal. Dishes slide down the conveyor belt with trays of passports, sunglasses and loose change. We release balloons into the air and watch transfixed as they drift up to the ceiling. We run our fingers over ingredients engaging all of our senses at the instruction of the chefs.
Each dish is beautifully presented and delicious. For this, I extend particular commendation to Head Chef Clyde Ngounou, Sous Chef Daniel Spirlinng and the Trainee Chefs from the Blue Marble Training programme.
My only criticism is that the iPads placed between us are only used once. Though they promise additional scenes of ‘Augmented Reality’ they are unnecessary to the effectiveness of the piece. Additionally, screens positioned around the kitchen to show what the chefs are preparing are difficult to see from a distance or an angle and would definitely benefit from being larger.
The show ends with tenderness but uncertainty. We leave with the message that food is comfort, memory, and identity playing out across our palettes. It is as much to do with who we are and where we have come from as our names. In the final moments of the show, Luca comments that sharing food is a universal gesture of “welcome” and Gastronomic does just that. It is an engaging, thoughtful and shining example of humanity for us all.
Gastronomic is playing at Shoreditch Town Hall until 12 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Shoreditch Town Hall website.