Tableware is an essential element for serving cuisine. If plates could be decorated with moving images, what kind of new value would be realized? ... This is the question that began our project. In fact, as someone who used to work in camera development, I have always felt strongly about the appeal and possibilities of moving images. I was involved in developing cameras, and photography is my hobby. When I capture a beautiful photo or video, I am able to convey my fascination to other people, by enabling them to see a realistic impression of what I saw.
Similarly, I have always had a strong interest in the relation between cuisine and tableware. Even our impression of ordinary everyday food can be altered by changing the dish on which it is served. Even when I dine in a restaurant, I often wonder how the plates were chosen for presenting the food. Then one day I thought it would be interesting if video and cuisine could be combined. From this realization, a new business idea called DishCanvas was born.
In order to turn this idea into a business concept, my team and I decided to get the input of professional chefs. What are the possibilities for combining food and moving images and what are the actual needs? With a mixture of expectation and uncertainty, we interviewed a number of chefs, and here is an overview of their reactions.
A continually evolving restaurant industry
First let's look at the recent trends in the restaurant industry. The forms of cuisine continue to change year by year, even the lines between different food categories and nationalities continue to be crossed. In 2013, a category called "Innovative" was added to the standard restaurant classifications used by Michelin, including French, Italian, and Japanese. The category of "Innovative Fusion" has also appeared on popular restaurant search and discovery websites featuring user reviews.
As a background to this, it appears that in addition to cooking skills, ingredients, and taste, which have been regarded as important for traditional cuisine, chefs are now starting to focus on originality through food presentation techniques and individual expression. Food is enjoyed with the five senses, and in order to make food that can be appreciated not just by taste, but also sight, smell, sound, and texture, cooking sometimes reaches the level of art.
Feedback from chefs
While interviewing chefs to uncover the challenges faced by restaurants, we met many individuals with an extraordinary passion for cooking. There was no common format for their presentation techniques. However, they did share an enthusiasm for doing something to entertain the customer, as well as tireless energy to realize it. In one shop we visited, the chef served up deep-fried fish that looked like it was still swimming, and at another establishment, the chef takes an oven grill along when providing home delivery to customers, for a live performance feeling.
A variety of innovate and creative ideas were encountered. Through the interviews performed by myself and other team members, we sensed that in the world of restaurants, there is a growing expectation for customers to have an experience they can get nowhere else. There also seems to be a desire for chefs to surprise and entertain the customer, while expressing their own individuality through the food.
On the other hand, for chefs who want to express originality in cooking, the ways to easily demonstrate their creativity are limited. While tableware and plating techniques represent the easiest and most available means of expression, they are also static and unchanging, and can only convey limited information to customers.
Projection mapping and live cooking do offer richness of expression and presence, but once equipment investment is made, updating is difficult, becoming a barrier for the chef to take on new challenges. While listening to chefs explaining these difficulties, I began to wonder whether a dynamic combination of tableware and video could be helpful, as it has never been done in the restaurant industry before.
Our team meeting
Creative possibilities using video-equipped tableware
DishCanvas will provide chefs with hardware offering expressive capabilities, along with a platform to support ease of use. The hardware features a dish-shaped casing that matches the atmosphere of the restaurant. It is equipped with a video display that shows moving images. The platform involves a dedicated smartphone app for chefs to use. They can easily create original video for the DishCanvas plate based on images and ideas in their mind.
The video creation method is very simple. Just use a smartphone to wirelessly connect with DishCanvas and then choose a base plate texture and motion type to match the food. Users can also customize various detailed effects and create original video. This makes it possible for chefs to convey their unique worldviews more dynamically through moving images that complement the cuisine.
The most challenging thing when coming up with the service was how to make the video content. At first, we thought about matching chefs with video creators. However, because the worldviews of chefs are very unique and since they are always busy, it would be difficult to quickly match them with creators and they would surely tire of the process each time. Besides, restaurant menus are not always fixed, and they continually change with the seasons, customers, and individual experiences. For these reasons, we knew that chefs would want to express themselves as quickly and as easily as possible.
Prototype of DishCanvas
To satisfy these needs, we had to enable chefs to make their own content. The key to quickly creating original video lay in a dedicated smartphone app to make the content creation process simple. We developed something that is easy to operate -- just open the app, and wirelessly connect to DishCanvas. Then the user just selects a plate feel or pattern using "Texture," before choosing a desired movement using "Motion." In order to make this app as easy to operate as possible, we decided to limit the process to five steps at the most. The user can also perform more detailed customization, enabling the creation of video that fully enhances a particular menu item.
The service targets restaurant owner-chefs who want to amaze and entertain customers by providing original menu items that defy conventional notions. Using DishCanvas, we would like to create a world where images only found in the minds of chefs are made visible, and where customers can enjoy expressive culinary creations that fully reflect the chef's individuality.