Few people haven't heard of Gingerline, the clandestine culinary affair speeding around the East London Overground. That said, few can actually tell you what goes on at one of these events. Sworn to secrecy, Gingerlovers past have been transported from the Siberian circus to submarine mess halls - all between Crystal Palace and Canonbury. It's Secret Cinema meets Heston; a fusion of performance, art, design and gastronomy that transcends not only the table but this very dimension.
Suz Mountfort co-founded the dissident diner with partner Kerry Adamson in 2010 and has since seen it go, well, off the rails, spawning the multi-dimensional Chambers of Flavour and, this year, the Institute of Flavourology.
She let us in on the world behind immersive dining with its secret oaths and inspiration that could pop up where you least expect.
Briefly sum up Gingerline for us.
Gingerline is made up of a bunch of food and drink enthusiasts whose goal is to create the ultimate dining experience. We run temporary projects along the the East London Branch of the Overground, taking only the most intrepid diners on an out-of-this-world journey that combines performance, design, music and the finest of foods.
Where did you get the idea for Gingerline?
My partner, Kerry Adamson, and I both love food, art and unusual experiences. So we decided to combine these passions into a super supper club. We roped in a bunch of creative folk and as the project developed and we grew more confident, the ideas became ever more challenging. The possibilities are endless. We brought in creative mediums such as sound installation, lighting, narrative and performance and somewhere through all this, we invented the concept now popularly known as 'immersive dining' - and that forms the basis of Gingerline today.
What was your background / what were you doing before this?
I don't come from an arts background, I worked in an office doing corporate relationship management (which was slowly devouring my sanity). I was always somewhat intimidated by so called creative endeavours because there is a such a mystique around it. Gingerline started not as a business idea, but a bid for sanity and life satisfaction. It just turned out better than we could have ever hoped for.
Where do you get your inspiration for each event?
From anything and everything really. The varied food scene in London offers lots of inspiration, though it's often more mundane things that will prompt an idea. I could be wandering around the supermarket and an idea for a deep sea made of blue balls could randomly pop into my head. I sometimes get told off for not concentrating on things fully, but I'm always thinking about what we can do next.
What is the weirdest / whackiest thing you've ever done at Gingerline?
I think attempting to create the inside of a Crash Test Dummy's mind, was probably an ambitious idea. Ha! We created a section within our Chambers of Flavour V1 which was built from random car parts, mirrors and an engine suspended from the ceiling. The concept was that the dummy was lonely and daydreamed of creating dinner parties for humans. We therefore built the engine so it dispensed oily ramen soup, which a mime dummy served to all the guests. I think we weirded a few people out with that one. Fun though.
And your favourite?
That's a tough one because each experience is unique. However, my favourite has to be our Chambers of Flavour projects. It was something I had on my mind for a long time before it became a reality and now it is totally disrupting the way people dine out in London. The idea is to make the food experience both immersive and active; a dining experience that is no longer static. Guests have to actively participate and physically pass through different realities between courses. It's an exciting project.
Why do you think immersive experiences have become such a big thing in London?
I think our daily lives can become so regimented and devoid of spontaneity. However, we're all children at heart; we seek out opportunities to relive the fun of our childhood. The ordinary is no longer enough. Adventurous individuals want and expect more from their nights out. This is where immersive experiences can fill the void. They offer adventure, risk and surprise. In the Gingerline's case, this means turning a meal out into a theatrical experience which challenges every single one of the diner's senses.
A lot of production goes into each event. Has anything ever gone disastrously wrong on the night?
Plenty of times! Though that is the nature of a pop-up I guess. We've had burnt main courses, ovens not working, actor illnesses and bar staff having to fill in. Trains are also a challenge because if the Overground isn't working, or trains are delayed, we run the risk of having no guests. It's these challenges which make the experience!
How do you ensure the total secrecy which surrounds each event?
Loose lips sink ships as we like to say. We don't reveal anything about our concepts, our location or our menu before the event to ensure nothing about the project is let slip. Our guests buy tickets without knowing where they are going, what they will be doing, who they will encounter or what they will eat. The location is only revealed only an hour or so before. As such we tend to get a certain type of person coming along to our events - very open-minded, incredibly trusting and fiercely loyal. Everyone swears an oath of secrecy and cameras / phones are switched off. In all the years of running Gingerline we've only had a handful of shares on social media which speaks volumes about our Gingerlovers. They enjoy being a part of this secret and don't want to ruin it for others. In return for this, we make sure they have a hell'uva night out!
Would Gingerline ever go abroad?
Never say never…. We're working on a few things at the moment.
Do you know of any similar concepts operating in other cities?
There are a few theatre plus dinner concepts…
What's next for Gingerline?
Next up is the launch of our private events brand, Institute of Flavourology, which is taking bookings now for early 2017. Over the years we've had many requests for Gingerline to cater and create unforgettable experiences at birthdays, weddings, corporate events. When we hired our incredibly talented head chef, Alejandro Rodriguez, earlier this year we realised we could start to fulfil these opportunities and sprinkle a little ginger magic beyond London. We've also recently awoken our mighty Machine, with Chambers of Flavour v2 running now until early 2017. We're sold out until middle of January, however we will be releasing a new batch of tickets at midday today… [Ed: you heard it here first!]
And how can we ensure we nab a ticket to your next event?
Be very quick off the mark! Sign up to our mailing list on the website, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and watch out for our not so subtle clues about potential ticket releases. Then it's about how fast you can click 'book' when the ticket booth opens…