From Extra Virgin to Virtual Reality: Why Technology Is Hospitality’s Way Forward
Inside The Tuscan Gun's Virtual Reality Experience
Ten years ago, while living in Los Angeles, I started a video blog to share recipes and anecdotes about growing up in Tuscany. A couple years later my wife and I landed a TV show on Cooking Channel and Food Network International.
A decade of professional cooking, producing and TV hosting helped me to develop skills that go far beyond the work I do at the kitchen counter. I’m now at a point in my life where many of my passions are colliding and I see in technology the potential to shape the future of the hospitality business.
At the open kitchen in my Park Slope shop/test kitchen, “The Tuscan Gun,” I host private events, develop recipes, have client meetings, and produce all my media content. From Gordon Meyer, head of marketing for 360-degree immersive technology company YouVisit, I learned that YouVisit’s virtual reality platform has helped scores of hotels and destinations including the Hilton Waikiki Beach, the Renaissance Midtown Hotel in New York, and the visitor bureaus of Philadelphia, Houston, and Oakland, share their amazing experiences with viewers globally. I immediately had a vision: this same technology could work wonders in the culinary world, too.
The YouVisit team helped me quickly create the best possible experience to bring my kitchen and cooking into the world of VR. A veritable army of production staff descended upon my space with multiple camera setups, lighting, sound equipment, and more. In just one day we were able to film everything we needed.
I knew the most successful VR experience would actually give viewers something to do, and not just see. That's the authentic experience of being in my kitchen; you have to get your hands dirty (even if it’s just digitally). Three clickable “hotspots” within the experience show me preparing menu options: a pasta dish, a farro salad, and a cocktail. The YouVisit team used a different camera setup for each dish: from above the stove, over-the-shoulder, and even from my perspective — a camera was mounted right on my head.
The finished experience, titled “Super Tuscan: A Cooking Lesson with Chef Gabriele Corcos,” has been a boon to my business. Whereas a typical visitor to my website might spend — at most — a few minutes checking the menu or confirming our location, now they’re hooked. They can experience the restaurant space, see how dishes are prepared, and hear me discuss the approach behind each. They can even check out our latest cookbook. The longer we can keep them engaged on the site, the greater the likelihood that they’ll actually come by for a meal.
This experience shows how VR and 360-degree immersive technology will change the way diners engage with restaurants. Until now, they’ve had to settle for 2D pictures in magazines, guidebooks, and online content. Now they can truly engage with our brand in an experience that works across mobile, desktop, and VR headsets.
It changes diners’ perspectives. When they show up on our doorstep after having seen the VR experience, they know exactly what they’re in for. Sometimes they already know what they want to order, or even where they’d prefer to sit. When you have a customer who already feels comfortable even before they’ve crossed the threshold, you’re starting from a good place. The first impression has already been made and you can just focus on doing what you do best.
Beyond making our customers happy, what I love about the experience is what it means for the larger culinary world. Not only is VR a huge advantage for restaurants, but it’s also a teaching tool for the next generation of chefs and operators. VR shows that you really don’t need the professional kitchen to prepare a fabulous dinner. By being able to see what I’m doing, you can watch it all come together in real-time — the same way my Nonna taught me years ago. VR makes you feel as if you’re really in the kitchen with a chef — something no other medium can offer.
And what’s coming next is even more exciting: VR purchases. Soon YouVisit will make it possible to buy things while inside a VR experience. For fellow restaurateurs, cookbooks are only the beginning. When you can sell products in VR, your customers can order branded spices, sauces, and whatever else you can offer. They can purchase the same kitchen tools you use. If you’re a hotelier, you can sell bathrobes and spa treatments. You can offer faster booking — right at the very moment your guest is getting excited about staying with you. The possibilities are endless.
For millennia, people have been drawn to restaurants and inns to spend time together. The draw and the enjoyment have changed very little. What has changed is the way we get customers through the door. Virtual reality represents a unique leap forward. With VR we can create the most realistic impression imaginable, so that any table, any stay, feels as comfortable as home.
Florence-born Gabriele Corcos is a James Beard Award winner, chef/proprietor of The Tuscan Gun in Brooklyn, and co-author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook, Extra Virgin. He hosts the Cooking Channel show, Extra Virgin, with his wife, actress and TV personality Debi Mazar.