Chloé Morris tells us how she came to set up Edible Stories – an extraordinary event company which harnesses all the senses of its guests
I first found out about the incredible Edible Stories offering after I’d been to the Food Hacking workshop hosted by Professor Charles Spence at Cambridge University…. Unfortunately I didn’t meet the founder, Chloé Morris, when I was there, it was only afterwards that I noticed Edible Stories were posting extraordinary happenings on Instagram using the same ‘sensory food’ hashtags as I was. Idea after idea kept appearing and eventually I just had to find out where they all came from and how this idea had become so successful.
I’m very grateful to Chloé for answering my questions so fully – it’s an inspiring story. Chloé is a sultry French-South African with a Masters in narrative environments. She founded Edible Stories in 2012 to create playful food and drink events which harnessed all the senses. She is a Fellow of the Future of Storytelling (FoST) and has appeared as the keynote speaker at the International Food Design Conference in New Zealand.
SD: What gave you the idea to set up Edible Stories?…. what, if you like, is the story behind Edible Stories?
CM: I’m a certified interior architect and product designer. And I came to London for a masters in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins. I wanted to create spaces in which people could be themselves and escape the real world, in which they could escape the expectations and pressures of their jobs or society.
And I knew I wanted to do something with food, beautifully designed spaces, people and most importantly, that I wanted to be part of their journey. So I decided to look at events. At the time Immersive Narrative events weren’t that much of a thing. We obviously had the main ones such as Secret Cinema and Punch Drunk. But intimate dining experiences with a narrative were at that time quite rare (I came before the hype).
I started hosting events for five people that were in the industry: designers, food designers, architects, etc, individuals that would be critical of the experience and allow me to push it further and challenge myself and the experience more. I followed these smaller case study events (all free for guests by the way…) by a series of pop ups – two days every two months to be exact – on a secret story in a different venue each time, where guests would find out the venue about a week before (using the very successful model that Secret Cinema created).
I did this for a year and sold out every single pop up. After realising that I wanted to always do more for my guests (and this did not always fit within the budget) I decided to concentrate on corporate and private client events. And this is where the story of what we do now begins.
SD: You founded Edible Stories in 2012 – how has it evolved since then? What have been the challenges? What have been the surprises?
CM: It all began with the five person (non-paying) events I mentioned above. Then there were 20-40 person events twice every two months (ticketed), and finally corporate and private clients.
Challenges have been mainly been around budgeting properly and getting the right teams in. This has taken a lot of practice, failures, and conflicts but on the other hand they have all made the experience so much more worthwhile. And now we have a successful model in place which allows us to work at pretty much any venue in London, for any scale with the best quality of food and service possible. We have created a database of suppliers which we can call for pretty much any request, and this would not have been possible if we got it ‘right’ the first time.
The biggest surprise I think for me was the openness our customers had to the experience and the support we received from some of them. At the start I was doing all the cooking myself. I’m not a chef, nor a trained cook but I love food and have a good understanding of what goes and doesn’t go together. And I also know what looks good on a plate, and how to challenge the eating or serving method. But in many other countries, I don’t think Edible Stories would have been accepted with such open arms.
SD: Tell us a bit about the market for the service Edible Stories provides, what are the social trends, why are people wanting this sort of celebration?
CM: As I mentioned earlier, when I started Edible Stories it was before the time where immersive dining was really an offering at all. Very few people were doing it, as a ticketed pop-up experience, it was new, although it had already been pioneered by Heston Blumenthal in a restaurant setting. So I think because it was different, it was exciting. There weren’t many of us offering this kind of edible experience. I think I would have had a very different experience had I started this company now. I don’t think it would have created as much of a hype, because every other company is now doing it.
I think the main thing that makes Edible Stories different from everyone else is that we are very stripped back in set design. We do the essential (obviously for private clients this is different because if the client wants more we will provide it). But for public events it was up to us. It was all about giving every prop, every element, every colour, a purpose. Nothing was there just because it was cool or pretty. Every element that found its way into the room or the space was there for a reason. Equally with the food. I hate gimmick. So I made sure that we used techniques and special ingredients only where appropriate.
What I noticed was that people were striving to engage. It was funny to see in a city where speaking in the tube is considered as invasion of privacy. At our dinners, guests would very quickly start to speak with strangers around the table. We intentionally left elements out that would trigger conversation. They were allowed, for one night, to leave all their inhibitions at the door and just be themselves. And at the time, I guess that was a need that many people had.
I would also add that, we were never forcing people to engage. And this also makes us different. In many events actors will come and break up your date, or interrupt your conversation. We made sure to identify our audience. Those who wanted to engage could and would fully. Those who just wanted something a bit different set in a great space, but wanted a quiet intimate dinner, would also fully be allowed to have this.
SD: Where do you get your best ideas and inspirations from?
CM: So firstly where do I get my inspiration from. I wouldn’t limit it to anything. As it can be anywhere. I get it from fashion, from Pinterest, from restaurants, from parks, from TV programs, from materials, the list is endless really. Some days and times of the days I will be more inspired than others. I think this is for all creative people. But when I am in the zone things do just flow out. I can have one concept image sometimes or one very strong work for the event and things just come into my head.
This question is actually really hard to answer, because often I’m not aware of the moment I find my inspiration and it comes back to me when I am at the drawing board… or all comes together in one of my dreams (so I have to write or draw it in my bedside notebook) – but below is a list of some of my favourite sources:
Fashion: It can be how materials have been put together, or colours, or the makeup models wear (which we have used in one of our events for Founders Forum)
Restaurants: If I ever see something served in a unique way, or taste an ingredient for the first time, or an ingredient is used in a way I haven’t seen before (for example: grated fois gras).
Parks: I think this would be more in terms of types of foliage, greenery, I take a lot of inspiration from nature for our sets (when appropriate), and at the start when we were producing all the sets ourselves, I would actually use a lot of natural elements taken from my garden or the forest…
Materials: Similar to ‘Fashion’, I go to material labs, and showrooms to look at the materials which could inspire me for tableware, plating techniques, and other uses.
I’m also a member of FoST (Future of Storytelling). This was one of my big revelations and it’s what made me come back to London and start to work within corporate and private client world. A friend of mine introduced me to Charles Melcher, the founder, who subsequently asked me to host a dinner for him and his friends. He was coming to London in a week and he wanted to test it first hand before exposing this brand new concept to his attendees. So I had a week to find a venue, redesign a menu, and find staff. I pulled in some favours, and found an amazing house near High Street Kensington. I managed to get it for the price of an expensive restaurant for two (I sent the owners to dinner) and set up shop. I chose to do Hansel and Gretel. It was the most incredible evening. Only lit by candles, with five very influential guests, including Felix Barret the founder of Punch Drunk, at my table. After that he invited me as a Fellow to experience FOST and discuss possible partnerships.
We also spent almost a year in residence at Library. It had just opened and their restaurant St Luke was non-existent. We had big plans for this place. We hosted Phantom of The Opera, Les Miserables, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Alice in Wonderland and James Bond here. It was a very tasking time, as I was hosting about four days a week and the hours were insane. But was incredible for social media content, following, and just a great platform to showcase our work.
SD: Could you give a couple of examples of your favourite stories?
CM: Ha! So 50 Shades of Grey. We’ve hosted this event four times now, and every time it was different.
I think my favourite were the smaller events. But we did do it for 60 people in partnership with Nude Noir for Valentines (and when the film came out) and that was very popular.
The main idea behind the event was not to be distasteful or too raunchy. But rather to play with the senses. It was a fully multisensory experience as each course concentrated on one of the senses. The thought was to create that tingle people get when they are excited but with food and interaction (the way it was served).
We started off the experience by having all of our guests blindfolded. This was to set the tone for the evening. They were to be submissive and be instructed how to consume their dish. With a pre recorded overvoice they were told how to eat their dish, this was done with an extremely sensual voice, very evocative words, and long pauses and deep breaths.
During another course guests hands were tied and they needed to lick the cocktail in front of them.
The dessert was a sharing plate which included elements of pleasure and pain, and hot and cold, and their only cutlery was a paintbrush.
SD: How do you create and assign roles?
CM: At our public events, it depends more on where you happen to sit really. But the roles are less specific to characters and more just being part of the story as a non specific character, more of a participant. Or if it is a private client event, the client will often tell me who they want to have a more active role, a more cheeky role, and who we should leave alone.
SD: What are you looking for in your suppliers – could you give an example of how one has creatively surprised you?
CM: The three things I look for most in a supplier are: compatibility; being on brand; and just being a joy to work with. I think they are all very important, but the last one is my number one. I’ve stopped working with many suppliers because of the way they have handled certain situations, or their lack of professionalism. I need to be able to trust that a supplier can be left in a room with my client and not say something out of line, or respond in an aggressive tone or other.
I recently was working on a job and we had been introduced to a new supplier. We had a site visit with the client and after a couple weeks it turned out that they simply couldn’t offer the particular service we were specifying. So instead of just leaving us to it, they not only introduced us to someone who would be able to take on the job at such short notice, but also relayed all the information and prep work we had already done. This saved us a lot of time, stress and also didn’t make us look bad in front of the client.
I don’t think the challenges I’ve set our suppliers have been TOO extreme up to date. But we had to set up a two day Italian pagoda at the Satoria restaurant. We had the day before to install and we worked until the very last minute to make it perfect. The installation was immense. The event was the press launch of House of Peroni.
SD: How can things go wrong…. and be salvaged?
CM: One of my worst experiences was my very first public pop up. We had hired an amazing church for our Adam and Eve event and had been to IKEA to buy all glassware, crockery, and cutlery. Well pretty much everything really. At the time it was all coming out of my pocket and it was cheaper to buy and use again throughout the year than rent. We’d set everything up behind screens as the kitchens were tiny and we needed space to prep all the dishes and have them laid out.
It was 20 minutes before guests were due to arrive. Remember Edible Stories was a company no one had heard of before, guests had already paid, and we’d only that week given them the location which ended up being a backdoor of some building in London. And then, suddenly, the electricity cuts off! Our saving grace was that we had candle lit all the tables already and that the stove was gas. One of the waitstaff went to tell guests that we were running a couple minutes behind and asked if they could patiently wait. At this point another one of the waitstaff bumps into the table where we had stacked all the bowls for dessert and half of them drop and fall to the floor and break. I thought I was going to lose it. I went to sit down in a corner and gave myself a little pep talk. I could either, right there and then, have a full on breakdown and cry and lose my s**t or I could suck it up and just get on with things. So I did the latter. We hosted the dinner, and none of the guests knew of anything had gone wrong. They all had a great evening and left.
The next day we hosted the event again, and at this point I got the contact details of the maintenance guy. We sadly also needed to buy all the meats, dairy and anything that would have gone off in the fridge (as, yes, the fridge didn’t work after the power cut). I definitely came out under profit from these events, but the experience was immense and I learnt a great lesson.
Now we always have someone who takes care of maintenance, who has everyone’s contact details and more importantly we also have floor managers that can take some pressure off of me.
But the lesson was, always have a plan B and C in place and ready to use.
SD: How do you see the future for Edible Stories?
CM: We have some really exciting projects currently in the pipeline. I think for the future we are looking at doing some more regular events with certain companies and a second challenge for the future is always to make sure to keep things interesting.
…..and a recipe? At the press launch for Ron Zacapa 23 with Diageo we had a main course of braised short beef rib. Guests had to set the dish alight, thus enhancing the taste and smell of the wood barrels.
Edible Stories Recipe for Braised Short Beef Rib in Ron Zacapa Reserva
1kg short beef rib
300 mls of Ron Zacapa Reserva
200 mls of water
700 mls of red wine
500 gms of carrots, sliced
500 gms of white onions, sliced
4 bay leaves, whole
1 tbs salt
1 ts cinnamon
Ask your butcher for a three inch cut short rib cut, also know as the Jacobs ladder.
Make up your Zacapa Reserva marinade, for 1 kilogram of meat – mix 300 milliliters of the rum with 200 milliliters of water, a table spoon of salt and tea spoon of cinnamon. Take your whole piece of beef and place it in a deep tray with the marinade, ensuring the fat side of the meat is face down in the marinade. Cover with cling film (to make air tight), then leave it in the fridge for 48 hours.
After the marinade has soaked into the meat, drain the left over marinade into a deep baking tray add 700 milliliters of red wine, four bay leaves, 500 grams of sliced carrots and 500 grams of sliced white onions. Then place the beef bone side up to ensure the meat is in your rich revamped marinade. Cover with foil (double layered) again ensuring it is air tight. Place it in the oven at 130 degrees and leave for 7 hours to braise slowly.
After the braising, carefully take the foil off and drain the juices passing your well cooked vegetables through a sieve giving you your rich Zacapa Reserva sauce. Cut your beef into the desired portions – which should be so succulent and tender the bones should be falling off the meat.
To accompany the dish, we suggest you prepare roasted root vegetables.
Added bonus: We added hay to the dish and gave our guests a candle. They were asked to set the hay on fire in order to create a memorable ritual. This will also add a nice smokey flavour to your dish.