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Immersive Culinary Experiences

A Guide to Immersive Culinary Experiences
For Your Next Virtual Event

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Long before virtual events emerged, attendee engagement has always been a critical component of any meeting, conference, or event. Engaging attendees at in-person events can be a challenge in itself, but it’s a task meeting and event professionals have come to know well. Engaging an audience when they’re behind a computer screen, on the other hand, is an area the events industry is just beginning to unravel. However, on the plus side, this means there’s room to experiment and get creative in the virtual realm -- something so many of us have become accustomed to over the last six months because, let’s face it, binge-watching Netflix only got us so far. 

With so many at-home distractions, virtual attendees need more than compelling content and presenters to capture their full attention. Your virtual event should distract them from their distractions, not the other way around. So, how can you make this happen? By incorporating hands-on experiences and activities that require attendee participation in your virtual event. 

Conveniently enough, people staying at home nationwide coupled with ever-changing and advancing technology has shown us that virtually any experience and activity can now be fully accessible online, which definitely works in the favor of pivoting to virtual. The tricky part is choosing an immersive activity that will cater to each event attendee’s individual interests. One way to go about this is to offer multiple event activities. This gives attendees the ability to sign up for the one that most interests them, but this isn’t always possible depending on attendance size and budget allowance. Another option is to survey attendees in the months leading up to the event and go with the activity chosen by the majority. With this option, you’re often left relying on attendees to send in their responses which can be time-consuming. If responses come in too close to the event you could run the risk of losing out on activity instructors and sponsors. 

In any case, no matter the size of your audience, budget, or prep time, there’s one activity in particular that everyone enjoys - and that’s eating good food. So, a food-focused activity is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Luckily, there are many activities and experiences that involve food and are just as easy to accomplish virtually as they are in-person. In fact, without the need to rent a restaurant or space, virtual culinary experiences are often more cost-effective. From beginner cooking classes to expert cook-off challenges, there’s a food fueled experience suited for any virtual audience! Don’t worry! We’ve done most of the legwork for you, and are sharing everything there is to know about incorporating a unique and engaging culinary adventure into your virtual event.

The Dish 
For any experience involving food and a group of people, dietary restrictions need to be considered to be inclusive of all in attendance. Ask attendees for any potential restrictions ahead of time and pass along this information to the chef or vendor so they can plan to accommodate everyone. Ask the chef to recommend ingredient substitutions for different types of diets, including but not limited to vegan, vegetarian, low carb, keto, gluten-free, or paleo. Lastly, the dish should also fit your event theme and not be too complicated to prepare.

The Chef   
The chef and/or host(s) are the most important part of the experience as they are the entertainment. Be sure to select an exciting food expert that will keep attendees fully engaged. Having a famous chef such as Food Network Chopped champion lead attendees through the virtual culinary session is not only a huge event attractor but also a one-of-a-kind experience that attendees will never forget. If the world-famous chef isn’t exactly in your budget, consider partnering with a local restaurant or chef who will provide a traditional recipe to the area where the event was originally scheduled to be held pre-COVID-19. This presents an opportunity for attendees to experience the area through food, just as if they were visiting. 

The Culinary Activity
Three popular examples of virtual culinary experiences include a cooking course, team cook-off challenge, and tasting session. Each can be implemented in ways to fit within the event budget. If your budget allows, consider sending attendees a package including the necessary ingredients and cooking tools in time for the event. If this option isn’t practical, present the recipe’s ingredients online for attendees to gather themselves. This may be slightly less convenient, but it gives attendees the freedom to make ingredient swaps.  

1. Virtual Cooking Class
Virtual cooking classes allow attendees to network and interact directly with one another in a relaxed and fun environment. Through a chef-led cooking demonstration, attendees will get to follow along in real-time, ask questions, and learn new techniques. After cooking, the remote group can enjoy their creations together. As a bonus, attendees now have a new delicious dish they can impress their loved ones with!

Here's what you'll need: 
- Ingredient List or Kit
- Host or Chef
- Special Culinary Tools Kit or List
- Optional Chef Hat and Apron

2. Virtual Cooking Challenge
To spice it up a bit and introduce some friendly competition, challenge attendees with the task of creating a dish out of unconventional ingredients. Just like the popular Food Network show, Chopped, impose a time limit to make things even more interesting. When the timer goes off, the contender with the most creative dish wins!

Here's what you'll need:
- Mystery Ingredient Box or List
- Host or Chef
- Special Culinary Tools Kit or List
- Optional Chef Hat and Apron

3. Virtual Cocktail Style Tastings
If your virtual event is being held in-between meal times or during happy hour, consider hosting a virtual cocktail tasting session. Reach out to local establishments for partnership opportunities. Depending on the time of day, perhaps a bartender, wine expert, or barista can lead the virtual audience through a cocktail or coffee demonstration and tasting. During the session, attendees will be able to interact with the host and one another while learning about the signature drink, creating their own variations, and enjoying food pairings and storytelling. 

See: The Best Virtual Wine Tastings to Enjoy from Home Right Now

Here's what you'll need:
- Drink Ingredient List or Kit
- List or Kit of Food Pairings or Garnishes
- Host or Chef
- Special Culinary Tools List or Kit
- Wine Glasses, Martini Glasses, or Coffee and Espresso Cups

4. Virtual Tastings
Take attendees on a virtual tasting tour by introducing snacks, treats, and small bites that are local to the area the virtual event is taking place. Depending on the region, this could entail different flavors of potato chips, cookies, candy, cheeses, dips and salsas, and more! For instance, some authentic local bites here in Maryland include UTZ Crab Chips, Berger Cookies, Fisher’s Caramel Popcorn, Dolle’s Salt Water Taffy, and Smith Island Cake. During the tasting, the host can dive into the food’s background and share what makes each a local favorite or tradition.If the region has a rivalry or multiple companies claiming the same product consider doing a tasting of these. Take Seattle's popular coffees for example, attendees could taste Starbucks, Tully's, and Stumptown and vote on their favorite. This will really make your attendees feel like they are experiencing the culture specific to the region even from behind a computer screen.

See: The Snack Food That Defines Every State

Here's what you'll need:
- Snack/Small Bites Box or List
- Host or Chef
- Optional Chef Hat and Apron

Culinary Focused Keepsakes
To make the experience even more worthwhile, provide attendees with a culinary gift they’ll remember your event by. Here are some of our favorite gifts:

- Branded Apron
- Gourmet Salt & Pepper Grinders
- Marble Cheese Board Set with Knives
- Personalized Wood Serving and Cutting Board
- Bamboo Wine Presentation Box with Tools
- Crystal Decanter
- Electric Wine Opener
- Kitchen Tool Set and Canister
- Coffee Press and Glass Set
- Copper Plated Moscow Mule Mug
- Pre-Loaded Journal Books with Recipes: Perfect Bound and Build a Book
- Personalized Rolling Pin
- Funny Oven Mitts 
- Olive Oil and Vinegar Cruet
- Fancy Spices
- Celebrity Chef Autographed Recipe Book

Conclusion
Virtual activity sessions are intended to break up an event and add a bit of fun and excitement. Fortunately, incorporating an immersive component into your virtual event doesn’t have to be a complicated process to leave a lasting impression. Virtual culinary experiences are a simple yet effective way to transform a mediocre virtual event into one that is highly interactive, engaging, and memorable. Additionally, food-focused group activities can accommodate any budget and audience size. So, whether the virtual session is a cooking lesson from a world-renowned chef or a cook-off challenge using unconventional ingredients, your virtual event is sure to be packed with fun, excitement, and of course, good food. 

For more immersive virtual event activities, checkout Engaging Attendees Through Virtual Events!

Signature Dishes by US Major Cities:
Albuquerque, NM - Chili Rellenos 
Amarillo, TX - 72 ounce Steak
Austin, TX - Tacos
Baltimore, MD - Crab Cakes
Boise, ID - Idaho Spud
Boston, MA - Clam Chowder and Boston Cream Pie
Charleston, SC - Shrimp and Grits
Charlotte, NC - Pimento Cheese
Chicago, Il - Deep-Dish Pizza and Giardiniera
Cincinnati, OH - Cincinnati Chili
Dallas, TX - Texas Caviar 
Denver, CO - Rocky Mountain Oysters
Detroit, MI - The Coney
Honolulu, HI - Mahi Mahi Tacos
Kansas City, MO - Ribs
Key West, FL - Key Lime Pie
Louisville, KY - Hot Browns 
Miami, FL - Cuban Sandwich 
Milwaukee, WI - Fried Cheese Curds
Minneapolis, MN - The Jucy/Juicy Lucy 
New Orleans, LA - Po’boys, Gumbo, and Beignets
New York City, Pastrami Sandwich, NY Bagels, Black and White Cookie, and Cheesecake
Philadelphia, PA - Philly Cheesesteak
Portland, ME- Lobster Rolls
Portland, OR - Voodoo Doughnuts 
Rochester, NY - The Garbage Plate or Hots and Potatoes
Salt Lake City, UT - Green Jello
San Diego, CA - California Burrito and Carne Asada Fries
San Francisco, CA - Cioppino
Seattle, WA - Coffee and Dungeness Crab  
Springfield, IL - The Horseshoe Sandwich 
St. Louis, MS - Toasted Ravioli 
Trenton, NJ - Pork Rolls
Tucson, AZ - Sonoran Hot Dogs and Chimichangas
Washington, DC - The Half-Smoke 

Julie McDonald
Written by Julie McDonald

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