AYAKO SUWA DOESN'T really think of herself as a chef. “I'm a food artist,” she says softly. “I describe myself as an artist, it doesn't matter whether you're an ordinary artist or a food artist, it's still a type of artist.”
Although that may sound a little highbrow, art may actually be the best way to describe Suwa's creations. Everything that emerges from her kitchen is served on plates or in bowls, but that's about as close as it gets to conventional dining. At first glance, it's a struggle to even identify any ingredients in the dishes. Is that made from meat or vegetables? Would it be sweet or savoury? Was that course served hot or cold? Is it even edible? It's hard to tell.
This confusion, however, is what Suwa hopes to achieve. With her company, Food Creations, Suwa specialises in hosting “guerrilla restaurants”, which are pop-up events that aim to broaden people's culinary horizons with elaborate meals that incorporate smells, sights and sounds into the dining experience. Speaking at a TEDx event in Tokyo last year, Suwa explained, “At these guerrilla restaurants, we're freed from the idea of whether food tastes good, bad, sweet, sour, makes you full or not. We're freed from these traditional gourmet food standards and you're able to use your five senses and wake up sleeping senses, desires and curiosity inside of us.”
Suwa's ambition to inspire strong emotions is reflected in the wacky names she gives to each course, which include things such as “A Taste of Anxiety” (something with cauliflower) and “A Lingering Taste of Regret with Overtones of Anger Welling Up” (a peach-based dish). “When you put it in your mouth, you won't become angry or emotional,” Suwa clarified at TEDx. “I just want you to taste the emotions.”
These guerrilla restaurants have been held everywhere from an old money-minting office in Berlin to halfway up an under-construction skyscraper in Singapore, though her most recent event took place in the more comfortable setting of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. This was hosted in conjunction with skincare and make-up brand Clé de Peau Beauté, which was launching its Synactif eye-care range to a crowd of celebrities and socialites.
Clé de Peau's products are themed around “purification and transformation”, two ideas that led Suwa to think about the life cycle of the butterfly, which in turn inspired the multi-course meal. This is Suwa's first collaboration with a beauty brand in Hong Kong, and the chef and Clé de Peau hit it off right away.
“The image of the brand is very sophisticated and elegant, and the level of beauty they're looking for is something exceptional, very similar to what I look for in my work,” Suwa admits. “The theme of this event is ‘purification and transformation', and when I looked at my work I realised that I do something very similar with food."