Over the past 20 years, we’ve watched the food industry gain traction at a rapid pace. The industry continues to evolve and shape their business model to meet modern day demands. In general though, Americans are more interested in the food they consume on a daily basis – from the ingredient list on the items that land in their grocery cart to the downtown chef sautéing their Brussel sprouts. The public’s curiosity surrounding the food industry has risen drastically and we don’t foresee this changing any time soon.  This movement has especially gained popularity throughout the Midwest, a region once known for mundane meat and potatoes is now home to two of the nations food capitals: Chicago and Minneapolis. These foodie cities find themselves landing on countless lists praising some of the nation’s top chefs and elite dining institutions. As the food culture continues to evolve, we are seeing a new wave of restaurants on the scene – entertainment based restaurants and we can’t help but wonder, is this the new way of dining? Are guests no longer content to sit and eat, must they be entertained as well?

In August 2017, Bon Appetit Magazine named Chicago the best restaurant city in America.  Elske, Giant, and Girl & The Goat all landed on BA’s list earning the title of top Chicago eateries but one in particular stands out to us, Alinea.  Since opening their doors in 2005,  Alinea has accumulated an impressive and growing list of accolades- they are a James Beard award winner, hold a 3-Michelin star rating and have been named the best restaurant in America on three separate occasions, not to mention the national recognition they have received as well. Known for their innovation, modernist cuisine, dining at Alinea is truly an experience. On a typical night diner’s should expect to be presented with around 20 distinct courses, none of which are served in a traditional format. As a matter of fact, there is nothing traditional about Alinea but to give you an idea of their style here are some items that have graced their ever-changing menu: edible green apple balloons,  house-made flavored snow and  hand painted dessert comprised of a juice reduction and assorted chocolates. In many of the dishes, the food elements mimic that of a science experiment so expect the “chemist” by your table providing a brief tutorial. Alinea’s head chef, Grant Achatz, is now recognized at a global level as a leader of the progressive cuisine movement.

Similarly, turning to our local community, one of the Twin Cities most celebrated interactive restaurants to date is Travail Kitchen and Amusements. The chef trio behind Travail strives to create a seriously fun experience for everyone who steps into their restaurant. Like Alinea, Travail’s dining experience consist of an over the top tasting menu of anywhere from 14-20 courses, so come hungry and be ready for anything.  Creativity never falls short at Travail so don’t be surprised if you find yourself back in the prep kitchen at some point in the night or one of the chefs swinging from the chandelier squirting sake into your mouth. Travail is breaking the age-old tradition of dinner and a movie, crafting a more interactive atmosphere in the age of technology.

This trend doesn’t stop at restaurants, it’s expanding into other areas of the industry as well. One of my personal favorite developments is the Eataly franchise. Originating in Turin, Italy in 2004,  Eataly is a large format Italian marketplace comprised of a variety of restaurants, specialty imported foods (think cold pressed olive oil, sea salt, handmade pasta, cured meat, etc.) cooking classes, retail shops and wine bars. Not only is this an environment to shop and eat, the creators have also incorporated an educational element as well – while you buy the imported olive oil, you can learn all about the region it yields from, the process it takes to make it and the family farmstead it was originally harvested on.  In my opinion, this truly elevates the shopping experience and helps justify spending the extra dollar.

The popularity of Eataly has expanded at a rapid pace. In just over a decade, the total number of locations has reached approximately three dozen worldwide, spanning from New York to Tokyo.  The beauty of the Eataly experience is it is exactly what you make of it— whether sipping an espresso while you pick-up groceries for the week or spending a Saturday afternoon eating and drinking your way through the market, Eataly is truly a food (and entertainment) lovers haven.

So where will your next interactive food experience be?