Ilya Khalikov: When Art Meets Food

Why Food and Arts should be together? Which are the common points?
I believe that creative gastronomy and art are placed on one of the highest and unfortunately least catered segments of human necessities. Those that touch the pleasure of soul and mind. Not the immediate need, but rather an indulgence. However, both art and gastronomy can spur emotions that make people think, feel, observe, reflect. In my opinion more people would prioritise these activities we would see a happier and more sustainable social structure. 
You’re a precursor in this Sector. What were the changes despite the past?
I do not claim to be a forerunner in unifying Art and Food, however I and my team strive a lot to make sure that in our events Art and Food are truly united. The guests are offered a wholesome experience rather than a fancy dinner with painting on the walls. It goes into details, such as menu, which is always a unique one elaborated by a talented chef that creates the dishes based on emotions conveyed by the artworks. Our events are targeted on a broad auditorium that covers art-lovers, gastro-enthusiasts and experience-seekers.  
Making an example: may you explain to our readers what is a Food Art event?
The format of an Art-Food event depends on the Theme that we elaborate. It starts with a location. It can be a grand hotel, an art gallery or a flag-ship store of a luxury brand. In London we are working on an event that will take place in a castle that used to be a jail and before that a church. Based on the Theme we find an artist or artists, contemporary or not and create a curator program, i.e. we choose artworks for the exposition and elaborate a story. Then we seek out a talented chef. We work with TheBestChefAward, Four magazine and Chef’s Table that help us find the best match. The chef then creates a unique menu. A skilful sommelier and barman chooses appropriate wine and creates cocktails specially for the event. Once all these elements are fixed the event is offered to the audience. If the event is private, i.e. paid by individual or a company, usually the guest list is fixed. If the event is public we launch a marketing campaign in advance. The guests are offered a unique experience we they can learn about the art, meet fellow connoisseurs, enjoy amazing food and drinks. By special requests, the guests may purchase certain artworks that are presented during or after the event. 
How to organize an Event for people who is interested to do that?
The idea of the Art-Food concept is fairly straightforward despite all the minor details laid out above. The secret sauce to a successful event are the people involved in preparation. They must fall in love with idea. They must see it as a special moment of their professional life and over-deliver, not because they are paid to do so, but because they sincerely want it to be something very special.   
Which are the developments of the Sector?
The major change in my view on the business came from experience. Now we clearly segment the events as public, corporate and private. Art and Food can speak to all audiences and convey any message. However, having the events separated in those three segments helps us to work on the desired message and target in a better way and in the end deliver a more wholesome and pleasant experience for the guests. To give an example, recently we had a private event in Zurich that was done for a venture fund. The guests comprised mostly of finance professionals. The choice of food and art was corresponding to the format of the event, i.e. all dishes in the menu had surprises, because we believe that any investment manager is to be ready for a surprise. The art was speaking of challenge and reward. At the same time, as the venture fund was to remain in focus of the evening, all our elements were very discreet, creating the ambience, but not overwhelming the guests. 
May you tell us something of your personal history?
I was born in Soviet Union, in a country now called Uzbekistan. My parents were common humble folk – a military officer and a civil engineer. Nevertheless, they did everything and more to install two ideas in me – “there is always something to learn” and “your world is the way you want it to be”. My mom always cooks delicious food making special twists to standard recipes. She told me to cook when I was 12. Art was also always present in our family, as my parents took me to theatres, museums and exhibitions of all sorts. I left home at the age of 16 and went to study engineering in Moscow. Graduating at 21 with a Master of Engineering, I was already employer by a German company as a Sales Engineer. The company was based in Moscow and represented German, Italian and French mid-sized equipment manufacturers that services cement and steel industry. As of then my career progressed as a B2B sales/marketing expert. I learned a lot from my first boss, who effectively became a father figure to me. In 2.5 years I got an offer from a Geneva based boutique consultancy to join them and cater for Russian speaking market. Their main service was Bankable Feasibility Study for industrial projects that seek international financing. That is how my expertise developed from pure sales into business strategy as in my new role I had to understand various aspects of business. During countless negotiations that I had with top management of large industrial groups, I developed a distinguished taste for fine dining. In Geneva I started learning the secrets of wine. And of course I embraced the art world. Within the next 7 years my career experienced permanent growth. I also did an MBA program in one of the best schools in Europe – St. Gallen University. So when I decided to start my own business, my natural choice was for hospitality and pleasure. The “Italian” influence on my decision is represented by such life-time experiences as Osteria Franchescana in Modena and meeting with Massimo Battura, “To Beef or not to Beef” by Dario Cecchini along the Cianti road, Costeria Amalfitana and its seafood cuisine, St. Hubertus by Norbert Niederkofler in the Dolomites. My Art-Food journey has just began, the company is only 1.5 years old. I am looking forward to new horizons and hope to be stirring emotions in the hearts and minds of my guests, just like the great teachers and partners inspire me.      
Which business opportunies are there now?
I think we are witnessing a wave of change in economy setup across the globe as many businesses rethink old paradigms. Sharing vs. owning, experience vs. product, lifestyle vs. brand. With Art-Food I want to cover the desires of modern customers. I want to offer different experiences in various cities of the world. I want to surprise and offer unusual formats. I am free in choices of venues, actors (chefs, artists) and themes. I offer my guests a high-end theatre where they are the most important performers, for it is all about them. I see countless opportunities of how Art-Food can benefit from present-day trends such as increased mobility for example. People travel much more today then they used to. However, despite ubiquitous availability of internet, sometimes people simply do not know what to look for. How many people outside of Italy can name all the regions of Italy and say what are they famous for? Art-Food can help. For example by organising an event “Italiano Vero” in one of the European countries by representing brilliant Italian chefs and famous artists from each region of Italy. Business opportunities are literally limitless.   

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