Is Vancouver “mind-numbingly boring”? So said The Economist in a recent travel blog singling out Vancouver for being pleasant, but dull.
We disagree with the basic premise. Vancouver has more than its fair share of drugs, poverty, international criminals, money laundering and gang-war street shootings in nearby Surrey and Delta to satiate a writers’ desire for grit.
But we’re hardly surprised by The Economist‘s take. Vancouver has long lived with the reputation of being a no-fun city. And sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the gorgeous mountain and ocean vistas to find the danger – and the fun.
Lizzy Karp and Ken Tsui are two local impresarios who combat our boring image by creating playful adventures in unexpected places. Under the banner of Here There Studio, their collaborative projects include Rain City Chronicles (an acclaimed speaker series), The Golden Dumpling Cook Off and Derby, the Tiger Ping Pong Club’s Round-the-World Showdown & Party and Sensory Cinema, an interactive pop-up restaurant and film series that dishes up five-course meals timed to pivotal scenes and food-plot twists.
Vv Magazine caught up with the dynamic duo to talk about how their quirky underground events, which always sell out within days of being announced, animate the city.
Professionally speaking, how did you two hook up?
Lizzy: It’s a very Vancouver story. We connected through the Chinatown Night Market.
Ken: I worked on it as a program director. I approached Lizzy about bringing in Rain City Chronicles – she had been doing it for four years and I was a big admirer.
Lizzy: I always take inspiration from spaces and themes so this was right up my alley. To have people who grew up in Chinatown telling their stories to an open crowd in an outdoor venue that was free and accessible. I don’t usually have faves, but that sure was one.
What is your mission?
K: We’re both risk takers. We want to introduce new concepts that people haven’t experienced before and give them something to talk about.
L: And collaborate with established organizations in a creative way.
K: We want to get people off their phones and computers and give them opportunities to play outside of bars or restaurants.
L: Like the ping pong event.
K: Yeah, people said we were crazy. They said it was never going to work. We expected about 100 people, but we ended rallying the city and drew 400. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. We took inspiration from ping pong bars in LA and New York. It just hadn’t been done here.
L: We had a lot of surprising feedback. It wasn’t a networking event, but everyone met new people. People showed up in costumes, even though we didn’t ask them to. We just created an invitation and a safe space to have fun and they took ownership over it.
How did you come up with the idea for Sensory Cinema?
K: I used to be a film director. I kind of fell into event planning. It was only after I started dabbling in food that I saw the relationship.
L: These are movies that are taken for granted as classics. We’re trying to give them new life.
K: When we’re working with chefs and facilitating their vision of telling the story through food, it’s like watching the movie for the first time again. It’s like hearing a Rolling Stones song in a Martin Scorsese film. After you see the movie, that song is changed forever.
How does a chef tell a story without words?
K: Jackie Kai Ellis [of Beaucoup Bakery] is a good example. She’s the epitome of a Parisian princess. She probably won’t appreciate that description, but she spends about a quarter of the year in Paris. We gave her a couple of choices, Romeo and Juliet for example. We didn’t want to do Amelie. It’s a really fast-paced movie. Once you press play, it’s like jumping on a sled downhill.
L: You can’t get off or slow down the food service.
K: But Jackie really, really wanted to do Amelie. It spoke to her passion of French culture.
L: But she had to include savoury dishes and she’s really identified as someone who only does pastry. This gave her an opportunity to speak in a different way.
Does the space ever inspire the menu?
K: All the time. It’s part of the experience and helps refine the vision. We did an event at the Creekside Community Centre.
L: The ceilings are high and the lights are halogen.
K: Any food in there is going to look awful.
L: So we had to find a creative, fun way to light the room.
K: Because I come from film background, I was able to get a helium balloon light. I looked like the moon so we started from there. We made the theme about discovery.
L: We rented a bunch of lab coats.
K: She was the scientist and I was the astronaut.
L: There were two menus, based on which costume people chose.
K: We hung the cutlery from fishing lines. It looked like it was floating in space. That was one of the more challenging ones. But thanks to Lizzy and the idea of story, we blended the space into the night and worked backwards.
Do you have any crazy kitchen stories about events that went awry?
K: Omigod. Our third Sensory Cinema was a disaster. Can we talk about this?
K: We were working with Nathan Lowey from Campagnolo on The Big Lebowski. We were about 90 minutes away from service. I was helping him unload his car. I picked up the cooler and said, “Wow, this is pretty light.” He said, “Yeah, we’re serving for 50 people, right?” No. We were serving two sittings of 50 for 100 in total. He just stared at me. He shoved the food in my arms, got in his car and drove away. I was panicking. I had cold sweats. But this is a testament to how amazing he is. He went back to his restaurant, woke up his sous chef (who was having a nap), came back with all the ingredients and made all the food on-site from scratch. Nobody knew the difference and he was as cool as a cucumber.
Does the thrill add to the fun?
K: People have no idea how much we’re sweating behind the scenes. L: Sometimes literally, like with Amelie.
K: The kitchen was so hot, the amp was overheating and the sound cut out.
L: We were putting ice over amp and there were us three of us fanning it.
K: As much as we want to create the perfect experience, those things that give us the chase keep on going from the craft side.
If you’ve attended a featured event at the Sensory Cinema, what’s been your favourite part of the night? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.