Chef Paul Pairet is famous for taking ordinary restaurant menus and turning them into nothing less than gastronomic adventures. Since 2005, he has opened two highly rated restaurants in Shanghai, one being Jade on 36 in the Shangri-La group’s flagship hotel in Pudong, and the other, the fashionable Mr. and Ms. Bund. But only recently did Pairet embark on a project that redefines the restaurant experience altogether. It’s called Ultraviolet, and rather than simply appealing to your tastebuds, the fare at this ultra-exclusive, clandestine eatery tantalizes all your senses.
Ultraviolet’s main dining room is equipped with an arsenal of sense-specific output devices. For the sense of smell, there’s a dry-scent diffusion system; for the ears, a surround and direct-projecting sound system to sculpt bespoke ambiance; for the eyes, 60 LED lights controlled according to different scenarios and seven projectors that fill the walls with images and video; and for the sense of touch, an air pressure and temperature control system to ensure that you’re at the perfect temperature to enjoy your food. This is all in addition to a state-of-the art kitchen that would blow any chef away. The experience can be yours for the equivalent of 315 bucks. Not bad for a full sensory experience that’s been getting rave reviews for executing this bold experiment with such precision.
However, getting yourself there is a tricky process akin to reaching a super villain’s top secret lair. After making reservations months ahead of time, a group of ten people is driven from Mr. and Mrs. Bund at 6:45 PM to a warehouse-like building. The main dining room is surrounded by white walls with a communal table in the middle. At 7 PM, a 20-course meal begins to unfold. A total staff of 25 people ensures that the meal goes exactly according to a specific plan, with each dish synchronized with a particular smell, visual, sound, and feeling.
We talked to Chef Paul Pairet to find out more about the curated, multi-sensory culinary experience of Ultraviolet.
You have opened two very successful fine dining restaurants. How did the idea of introducing technology to create a multi-sensory dining experience come to you?
Chef Paul: I’ve had the idea since 1996. I wanted to get rid of the constraints that a traditional a la carte restaurant’s system imposes, where the kitchen loses control over quality and provides less experience when it is too busy responding to a dining room full of hungry and demanding customers making their own choices. I had in mind to make something small, very personal, the home feel in professional hands—a revival of the 17th century table d’hôte. I tried to open the restaurant three times, the second time being at the Baccarat in Paris in 2002.
Ultraviolet room, Autumn Soil. Photo by Scott Wright
Has this concept ever been explored by other chefs or restauranteurs before?
Not as a dedicated operation or restaurant. A few contemporary chefs, including Heston Blumenthal’s Sound Of the Sea or Joan Rocca, have made menus for events investigating the “psycho taste.” Ultraviolet is definitely the first on the fields worldwide.
UV Night Club. Photo by Scott Wright
How do you work with your sensory production engineers? What is the creative process like from making a dish to figuring out all the other sensory elements?
First comes the menu composition, which is very long and difficult to balance. Then, on each course I give the direction sustaining the dish. It could be anything from its ethnic influence, its caricatured interpretation, a taste combination, a texture, or a temperature. I set a few directions per dish. We then work on sourcing and selecting the direction depending on the balance of the menu and relevant data to achieve the menu pairing for beverage and ambiance. We test to see if the direction is correct, then the tech team takes over to complete the scenario. After that, it is a matter of exchange and input from different individuals.
Ultraviolet food, Gummies Hibernatus Cola Rocks. Photo by Scott Wright
In an audio, visual, scent and touch activated atmosphere, how do you strike that perfect balance between all the senses?
We have worked on it every day and will for the months to come. The balance of the meal itself is key—the proportions, quantity of food, and liquids, the correct liaisons, edgy and surprising to gourmet and comforting. The atmosphere is here to enhance the course, emphasizing the direction or contrasting with it. There is always a reason to set a specific scenario, though it is not necessary to understand those reasons, but always to get the best experience. Actually, it is best to go with the flow, without trying to be over analytical. A lot of things are obvious or primal, while others are subtler.
Ultraviolet food, Foie Gras Can’t Quit. Photo by Scott Wright
Out of all the cities in the world, why did you chose Shanghai to realize this high-concept restaurant?
The project could have been theoretically set anywhere in the world. Yet, Shanghai is practical because I have set up home there and I have already opened two restaurants there. Shanghai is certainly one of the best places to do such an experimental project because it is still building up and aims at developing ideas, concepts, and value.
Ultraviolet food, Cucumber Lolipop. Photo by Scott Wright