Our interview with Alison Tan and Amanda Kwan, the creative minds behind Hong Kong's Savour Cinema

If there is a universe where film lovers and food lovers converge, it would be the one Alison Tan and Amanda Kwan created.

Our interview with Alison Tan and Amanda Kwan, the creative minds behind Hong Kong's Savour Cinema
Source: Savour Cinema

If there is a universe where film lovers and food lovers converge, it would be the one Alison Tan and Amanda Kwan created. Film-inspired culinary experiences is what the pair creates for private audiences and they call this Savour Cinema.  

Alison Tan and Amanda Kwan started Savour Cinema in 2020 with "Spirited Away" as their debut delivery dinner. Draw up the memory of the white-faced foreman devouring mountainous piles of food in his big bath – Savour Cinema echoes the scene with a beautiful bento box of sashimi, tamago, roasted pork and more delicious bites. Or recall when everything turned awry as the family drove down the strange path – Savour Cinema commemorates this with the "Wrong Turn" whiskey-based cocktail, which is garnished with wood chips from the Aomori Hiba, a fragrant tree native to Japan.

Since then, they have created seven more editions, including a "Midsommar" dinner for the spooky season. As they told us, "It's a labor of love, and one that gets more satisfying with every edition and ecstatic guest."

The immersive experience doesn't stop at the food. Presentation of the courses, decoration of the space and the creation of props all make the dining experience transportive. It is gastronomy fantasies materialized and a hotpot of imagination and gluttony.

TMS caught up with the pair to peel back the layers of food design, the process of curating Savour Cinema experiences and the capacity as well as emotional complexities of food.

Source: Savour Cinema

Q: How did the idea of Savour Cinema come about? What is the motivation and mission behind this concept?

A: Savour Cinema grew out of our hunger for experiences while facing restrictions of the pandemic. In lieu of your classic dinner-and-a-movie night on the town, we saw everyone staying and ordering in, binging Netflix. We wanted to upgrade our nights-in with the fanfare and anticipation of an actual event. Thus, Savour Cinema was born from our shared love of films and all things culinary.

We reinterpret cinematic moments from our favorite films into a multi-course menu with cocktails timed to key scenes delivered to our guests in labeled, thematic packaging to be enjoyed while watching the film. With delivery editions, we even dress up as characters and play music from the films for an extra theatrical touch! Most recently, we love hosting in-person Savour Cinema dinners where we can serve up scenes directly to our diners and add interactive elements and intermissions to the dining experience.

Q: Can you explain a little more about the concept of "food design?"

A: Food design explicitly addresses the myriad threads of meaning within what – and how – we eat, thereby shaping our understanding and behaviors. Our gustatory practices are the convergence of culture, history, geography, psychology, sociology, ecology, economics and philosophy. Food is meaningful for us far beyond nutrition.

For example, breaking bread together can be the beginning of healing a rift between two parties; intentional table etiquette can transform traditions to meet our modern needs; dinner composed of ingredients found in a world without bees can highlight the urgency of preserving our pollinators.

Q: How do you pick the films Savour Cinema chooses to highlight?  

A: We always pick films with sumptuous visuals and an engaging storyline that provide points of inspiration for edible moments throughout, without necessarily being about food. Quite often we will curate our programs to fit the season. For one Chinese New Year/Valentine's Day, we created an experience around the classic "Eat Drink Man Woman" by Ang Lee – a film that perfectly encapsulates how food is a signifier of both romantic and filial love. For us, there's a sweet spot between a film being widely known without being too "popular," and we are both drawn to nostalgic films from our youth, such as "Beetlejuice," 1988 (October 2020, event) and "Jumanji," 1995 (August 2020, delivery).

Source: Savour Cinema

Q: Could you run us through the process of producing one of your dinners?

A: We first shortlist films that feel right for the occasion or season, or perhaps we've both been waiting for an opportunity to do one in particular. We each watch the film and write down ideas for different courses/time stamps throughout the movie. Then we compare notes and design a test menu for research and development in the kitchen. Oftentimes we find we have similar ideas for the courses or surprise each other with alternative and abstract ideas – an inevitability when so much of our time is spent discussing food! Simultaneously, we also create the print material, decorate the venue or source bespoke thematic packaging and plating, designing our guest's experience to truly immerse them into the cinematic worlds. It's a labor of love, and one that gets more satisfying with every edition and ecstatic guest.

Q: How do different components of food – ingredients, flavors, textures, temperature to name a few – come into play when translating abstract things like ideas or emotions?

A: Every detail of the dish, from the way it's plated to its flavors, should evoke the film's scene in delightful and tangible ways. When concepting edible moments to abstract scenes (non-obvious food or drink visualization), we may play on texture or smell to emote a sentiment from the film – using spice to indicate a particularly heated or poignant moment in the film, roasting or charring a component to suggest something fiery. We also are inspired by films' visuals to interpret into dishes – with a film like "Beetlejuice," there were not so many obvious food moments, but it is a film rich with visual cues, like the scene of a staircase turning into a black snake inspiring a squid ink pasta course.

Q: Which part of organizing these dinners do you find most challenging and most rewarding? What's the best part about running Savour Cinema?

A: The most challenging part is actually narrowing down all of our ideas for each film. We always have three times the amount of dish, drink and experiential design ideas than we can feasibly execute. We're a small team and our events are pop-ups, as well as the fact our guests only have one stomach!

As Savour Cinema was born out of our shared passion for food and film, it's so rewarding to see and hear about our guests leaving an experience full and asking about when the next one may be. We are both proud of the progress we have made over the last two years and are so grateful for the many friends and supporters who have continued to join us with new friends in tow!

Source: Savour Cinema

Q: You often talk about food as a shorthand for love. Why do you think so, and how does that work?

A: Food/feeding/dining is shorthand for love as the most rudimentary act of service and the most universally-appreciated gift. After all, we all have to eat to survive, and there is so much pleasure in eating. Food and feeding has long been a way we both were raised to understand our families' love for us when the words may not always be as forthcoming. When we feed someone, we nourish them; we can go beyond and thoughtfully personalize the little details to show we've been paying attention. Even among ourselves, we bring each other scallion pancakes and medicinal teas during long work nights in the kitchen as a way of showing we've got each other's backs.

Q: Is there a particularly memorable moment that comes to mind in this whole process of Savour Cinema?

A: Looking back at our first edition ("Spirited Away," delivery June 2020) to now, some of our fondest memories are in the kitchen on R&D days, where we spend half the time geeking out over recipe research, adjusting/improving on what we find and test to apply to our concept; with the other half of the time, we confide and confer with each other on our lives past and present – often talking about family and our shared/not-shared Chinese American experiences. We have a lot of fun together.

A few recent moments that stand out:

  • Nearly burning our fingerprints off with hot glue while building a headpiece and full body cloak of faux flowers for our "Midsommar" event – as a prop and photo op for guests to enjoy, emulating the famous scene of the May Queen. This endeavor took over 30+ hours between the two of us!
  • We recently watched several made-for-Netflix Christmas films, which brought us a lot of levity while mastering the pinch braid dumpling fold as we wrapped 300 momos for our "Chungking Express" edition. LOL
Source: Savour Cinema

Q: Did you do any special films/dinners for the holidays?

A: We have just wrapped up four nights of Savour Cinema! This was our most ambitious schedule yet, but we were so excited to conceptualize a menu and experience inspired by Wong Kar-wai's "Chungking Express." Fully booked within 48 hours with a waitlist for each seating, we were overjoyed at the response! Guest feedback thus far has been so heartwarming after the intensity of the weeks leading up to the events. We are already looking ahead to early 2023 for our next edition!

Q: What's next for Savour Cinema?

A: Follow us on Instagram @SavourCinema to find out :)

Source: Savour Cinema