Victoria Markets on a Wednesday night is a hive of activity. Thousands of Melbournites squeeze through each other in a glorious rush of epicurean human traffic. The pallets that during the day are stocked with the freshest fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices are replaced with food trucks, pop-up restaurants and the latest craze gripping Bleak City: the gourmet food cart.
The markets run through spring and summer and attract a diverse crowd: office workers unwinding after a long day looking at spreadsheets, impossibly cool uni students socialising after a day studying at one of the city’s top institutes of higher learning, hipsters showing off their latest ink and/or piercings, and tourists willing to brave the authenticity of Australia’s most notoriously on-trend city to enjoy a good feed, craft beer and some laid back tunes as night sets in after another day under this foreboding summer sun.
At Cevaps Cart, beef sausages sizzle to perfection; Mr Peach is stewing stone fruit for dessert; Frank’s serves up Asian-fusion beef and chicken dogs; Señor BBQ is an authentic Argentine charcoal grill specialising in meat every which way but raw; Shanghai Grill has octopus tentacles for those that love cephalopods while the Hawaiian Grill is pork belly central. There’s Kettle Corn for myriad varieties of popcorn, Taiwanese fried chicken, Spanish paella and genuine Sicilian cannoli.
Food, culture and humanity collides once a week in a magnificent phantasmagoria of pride, greed and gluttony, which is still less than half the Seven Deadly Sins.
And into this orgasm of conspicuous consumption Fisher & Paykel has launched its Social Kitchen, a new venture that aims to meld fresh produce, professional cooking and the peak of appliance technology, with the end goal being a surge of sales commensurate to sparkle of the taste buds.
This isn’t F&P’s first cooking demonstration venture but it is the first that the company owns and manages outright. The previous ventures, such as the Seafood Cooking School at Sydney’s Fish Markets, are partnerships with existing schools, whereby F&P furnishes the academy with appliances in return for branding and exposure.
The Social Kitchen is very much a Fisher & Paykel exercise, best exemplified by the sheer volume of F&P branding in and around the Victoria Markets. Flags and banners and signs are unmissable and this outdoor media provides outstanding exposure for the New Zealand brand. Apparently Fisher & Paykel didn’t even need to pay for this advertising space so ‘well done’ for achieving that outcome.
A tougher task for marketing teams in the modern landscape is using social media to gain traction with the new, younger consumers coming through. The old days of lifestyle magazines and TV advertising is still effective in attractive an older, more conservative customer, but as the times change, that consumer band grows old and narrows while the youngsters that eschew traditional media become the force to be reckoned with. The Social Kitchen is intended to be an interactive experience that users can share with friends and followers over Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and whatever the next big concept is.
Each week over the next six months will see students learn from professional chefs before enjoying a feast of their creations. The cooking pods are fitted out with Fisher & Paykel 60-centimetre multifunction ovens, induction cooktops and CoolDrawer refrigerators. The full F&P Companion Range is installed at the front for demonstrations and there are four integrated coffee machines configured in a square for caffeine injections throughout the process.
Setting up a cooking school so prospective and recent customers can experience appliance first hands is not particularly revolutionary — any brand serious about positive consumer experience runs similar programs — but what is novel about The Social Kitchen is the way the 26 weeks of activity have been constructed around themes.
Themes can sometimes be a bit of a novelty but when you can successfully marry the ingredients, the process and the timing into a nice bundle with a instantly redolent name, you can create a powerful magnet that is easy for customers to understand. This first week of The Social Kitchen is Americana, next week it’s Vietnamese Street Food, then Sparkling NZ Seafood, Seasonal Berries, Jingle Bell Rock and Ho Ho Ho (for Christmas delights), Little Food (for party season), Authentic Indonesian and, into the New Year, Valentine’s Day. The website lists the full calendar so interested parties can plan and book ahead of time, depending on their preferences.
Normal classes cost $135 and last for around 2.5 hours, including the eating of the meal prepared and a nice glass of wine as a reward for all the hard work. Fisher & Paykel is also hosting Masterclasses featuring some of Melbourne’s top chefs, including Scott Pickett from Estelle, Sascha Randle from Epocha and Jarrod Hudson from Easy Tiger, among many others. These Masterclasses cost $275.
Fisher & Paykel will also be using the space to enhance its trade relations, with sales staff and store owners of Melbourne appliance retailers invited in to the Social Kitchen to learn more about the products they are selling. Already, Fisher & Paykel has hosted staff from E&S Trading, Campberwell Electrics, Harvey Norman and The Good Guys and the response has been positive.
Each class during the 26-week run will include four spots for dallying customers to be inculcated in the F&P brand and retailers are invited to send these prospective purchasers to the Social Kitchen to help get the sale closed.
Fisher & Paykel is far from the first appliance brand to align its brand with fresh produce and the joy of cooking — just last week at an LG event, its celebrity spokeschef Matt Moran hosted lifestyle media at a walk and talk through seafood, produce and meat stores explaining how to choose the best ingredients — but this effort really is a cut above the rest in terms of its ambition, location and execution.
The Social Kitchen is located at Shed A, Queen Victoria Markets, corner Victoria and Peels Streets, Melbourne. The Night Market runs every Wednesday evening through the end of summer 2015.
This author is on Twitter: @Patrickavenell