When Chef Kevin McKenna went foraging for wild leeks in mid-March, he came dangerously close to revealing the location of his secret stash to all his followers on Google+ after posting pictures tagged with his current location. Fortunately for McKenna, Google followed though on his request to remove the posts in order to keep the location of his leeks’ growing grounds a mystery.
But McKenna’s close call was part of a larger learning curve in order to prep for Jamie Kennedy’s Open Kitchen+ Project event this week. The culinary gathering was in some ways a celebration of local food and culinary talent, but also part of a social media experiment Canada’s food scene hasn’t encountered before.
The event, hosted in part by the Canuck chef Jamie Kennedy, the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and Google Canada saw eight chefs chatting with reporters holding cameras of all sizes, local producers sampling plates, along with roughly 120 guests sipping wines from local growers.
WATCH: The scene at Open Kitchen+ Project. Story continues below:
“We’ve hit upon a community of like-minded people,” said Chef Kennedy in his opening remarks, adding that, “we wanted to take wine makers, food producers, and cooks, put them in a room and see what happens.”
The result was a digital feast documented by Google Canada all in real time. Guests could watch chefs prepare their dishes simply by glancing at an enormous projection screen that switched between different video feeds. The search engine giant also live streamed the event as a “hangout” on their social network, Google+.
Using several web cams attached to each of the chef’s cooking areas, those unable to attend the event in person could watch chefs from the Group of Seven — a group of partnered chefs from Ontario — prepare dishes such as elk tartare, roasted boar belly on steamed buns, and wood mushroom gnocchi.
SEE: Images of the chefs’ dishes. Story continues below:
Andrew Mackenzie, the creative director at Google Canada, said the culture behind food and social media were a natural pairing.
“It was natural for us to work with this community. Moving forward, we’ve seen that food, whether you’re a producer or a consumer, is such an area of interest in a social media perspective — Chowhound, sharing photographs, rating restaurants, sharing recipes — it’s all a natural habit or behaviour of this community,” said Mackenzie.
And it was that desire that served as the launching point for The Open Kitchen+ Project. But the project isn’t the first attempt to foster a food community.
Earlier this year, the Social Media Club chapter in Washington DC held a conference on how chefs could go social. In the United Kingdom, social media network, Sustaination, sprouted to connect food producers with local buyers. And for projects closer to home, Foodtree, a Vancouver-based social network allows users to connect the dots between what’s on their plate and where it came from.
For Rebecca LeHeup, the executive director of Ontario’s Culinary Tourism Alliance, the event marked the chance to tell a story.
“I really do see social media as a platform to tell the great stories about the great tastes in Ontario and I think the fact that more of the farmers and chefs are becoming more social media savvy is fabulous,” said LeHeup.
At the very least, the story told was one of appreciation, shown through empty wine bottles and messy plates that piled up throughout the night. And while the event may have ended, the story behind Jamie Kennedy’s Open Kitchen+ Project is ongoing until the release of a video documentary set to air on Youtube in the coming months.
The bounty of food and wine kept most hands busy but there were some guests who managed to squeeze in a few tweets in between bites. Check them out below: