They sit down to a box of dining instruments, containing a syringe, a nose peg, a blindfold and a selection of wooden, plastic and metal spoons.
Their host at the event, held at Colworth Park near Bedford, is Caroline Hobkinson, of Stirring with Knives. She specialises in working with food as an artistic medium, creating an experimental dining experience.
First the setting: lighting is important to food perception and a brightly-lit conference space is transformed by candlelight. Walking and talking among her audience, Caroline explains how research is looking into how diets and choices can be affected by eating environments including sounds and smells.
She talks as delegates enjoy cornichons (small pickled gherkins) with duck terrine, lentil and cinnamon fritters. Diners are invited to put a peg on their nose to test whether the spice is smelled or tasted.
To follow: pea soup with bacon smoke, caused by flaming bacon slices amid the tables; sashimi with a syringe of smoked whisky, slurped from a petri-dish; lemon sorbet sampled with spoons of various materials; haunch of venison speared with forks on the end of bamboo canes and a chocolate pot dessert eaten to the background of very high and low sounds tin order for diners to experience how it affects the palate.
The very different dining followed a day’s discussion of innovation and ideas.
Welcomed by Colworth Park enterprise director Dr Wesley Randle and Daniel Mouawad, chief executive of the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, delegates heard presentations by Unilever, Crown Packaging and Kerry group on fast-moving consumer goods, on innovation by Professor Simon Bolton of Birmingham City University and Tesco’s view on the priorities for innovation in retail.
Then 18 innovators from start-up businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises and universities pitched their ideas to industry experts on the Open Innovation Forum, set up by the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing Education and Consultancy.
The senior leaders and decision-makers from industry giants including Mars, Tate & Lyle and Bacardi heard five-minute pitches on ideas such as ways to determine the freshness of food products, anti-counterfeiting technology, products to reduce glucose peaks after meals and instrumentation to help companies to reduce waste.