Fine dining chefs rewriting festival grub standards.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Charcoal-grilled squid stuffed with northern Thai sausage and served with marinated banana blossoms; and smoked sea bass relish layered atop seasonal greens. One Michelin-starred Bangkok restaurant 80/20 impresses with its refined take on Thailand’s folk recipes. The head-turning dishes? They are not in the restaurant’s dining room. Instead, you will find them in the open wildness of Wonderfruit, Asia’s largest music festival.

Once synonymous with limp hot dogs, sustenance at festivals has clearly evolved – and it is a welcome change.

Of course, this isn’t the first time fine dining chefs have found success on the unlikely stage of music festivals. Dave Pynt, chef-owner of one Michelin-starred modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends, collaborated on a four-hands dinner at ZoukOut Singapore 2018, and B-EAT by Las Vegas famously wrangled fine dining chefs, including executive chef Christophe De Lellis of Joel Robuchon MGM Grand, at Tomorrowland.

It’s easy to list the reasons why chefs are taking to the platform, despite the less-than-stellar kitchen conditions and having to cater to an overwhelming number of people. Here, cultures collide, ideas are exchanged and, more evidently, it is a dazzling spotlight.

According to marketing manager Becka Whiteley of UK’s Shambala Festival, following the event’s decision to go meat-free in 2016, “Seventy-five per cent of surveyed attendees reduced their meat and fish intake.” So, we can only imagine what effect Wonderfruit, a festival with wellness and sustainability as its core ethos, will have. Its 2018 edition alone saw an international audience of over 17,000.

What ultimately draws people and chefs back appears to be something more fundamental, and what these music festivals have stood for since their inception. Chef-owner of Cloudstreet Rishi Naleendra, who cooked at Wonderfruit 2019, sums its aptly: “It’s a different world. No one judges anyone. You can be yourself, truly.”

My Reading Room

Sustenance at music fests may now mean a Michelinstarred multi-course affair.