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Disneyland of culinary experiences
ARE you a working professional looking for a hands-on activity after hours? If you want to channel that unharnessed creativity, the newest addition to the Central Business District (CBD) might be just what you need. Swap that tie around your neck for an apron around your waist, and you're ready to go.
Based in Moscow, CulinaryOn - the largest cooking studio in Europe - has ventured eastwards and started its first non-Russian operation here in Singapore. Don't be fooled, though, this concept is far more than just your traditional cooking studio.
Co-founder Alexander Blanc, 39, says: "Typically, you have professional schools like Le Cordon Bleu where you spend thousands of dollars and become a chef. You also have smaller cooking studios where passionate professionals teach people what they know. The difference at CulinaryOn is that it's not chef-centric, it's customer-centric, so we have different cuisines, fun methods of cooking, and in Moscow, we employ eight full-time photographers because we know that's the magical part of the experience - making memories."
"In fact," he muses, "we're like the Disneyland of culinary experiences. You know it's not exactly the Magic Kingdom, but when you come in, you're completely immersed."
The space measures 7,000 square feet and comes with a conference room, four separate event areas with 16 cooking stations, four chef tables and well-stocked bars. The event areas can be combined to accommodate up to 200 people at once.
Mr Blanc started CulinaryOn in Russia with his partners Giulio D'Erme and Vera Sadovina in 2012, and it proved to be a big success. By September 2013, they had to expand to keep up with the rising demand, and on average, they see 3,000 clients a month, with 50 per cent year-on-year growth. Having invested more than S$3 million in Singapore, the team is hopeful that business here will do just as well.
They intend to open 20 CulinaryOn locations worldwide in the next five years. Mr Blanc explains: "It's a good concept because there are so many cities with a lack of extraordinary entertainment. For example, you have 4,000 restaurants in Singapore, but if you want to do a food-related team-building exercise for 100 people, where would you go? It's the same in many other big cities."
The decision to launch a studio in Singapore was based on three factors. Mr Blanc says: "We wanted it to be in vibrant cities where people enjoyed going out, where there was a concentration on business because that's where half our revenue comes from, and where there was a genuine passion for food. We felt Singapore uniquely combined all these things."
As corporate clients are their best customers, it was a no-brainer to look for a central location. The father of three adds: "We're looking at a second location in Dempsey for families, but we didn't want to start off there. I think that if families want to create a memorable experience for their children, they'll travel to wherever they need to go, even if it's in the CBD. In fact, the first booking we had here was for a child's birthday party. Businesses are more rigid and would like more proximity."
The design of the studio here is based on the Moscow branch, using a brand book developed by branding agency Landor. But there are a few differences. Mr Blanc says: "We understood that we'd need to adapt it slightly, so we did. In Moscow, we wanted to recreate a cosy Italian experience because it's cold outside. Here, we gave it a bit of a fresher look so we could leverage on the expansive windows and greenery outside."
The former consultant recently conducted a TED talk on the philosophy of how cooking together helps to fight obesity and bring people closer. He says: "Cooking is not only relaxing for the mind; it helps you keep active while teaching you new things. Not all my friends have the same physical capabilities, so we can't all play football or golf, and there's no communication when you watch a movie. There aren't many activities around where you can interact with the people around you."
That philosophy is evident in the masterclass sessions. Hosted by an executive chef, a sous chef, an event master, a barman and a photographer, they ensure that guests have a chance to kick back and just enjoy each moment. Mr Blanc says: "We're not teaching people how to cook. It's more like a fun process of guided discovery, where we offer a platform for people to discover how they want to do it. If they don't like the way something comes out, they can adjust it by doing something else.
"Though," he adds, with a grin, "that doesn't actually work with desserts."
CulinaryOn is at #04-63 One Raffles Place, Tower 2. Opening hours are 10am to 11pm daily, but sessions must be booked in advance. To book, and for more information, visit culinaryon.sg or call 9726-5421.