Barcelona, Spain, is a gastronomic epicenter. Its recent explosion of Michelin-starred restaurants has placed it on the map as a go-to place for gourmands who want to experience the finest in European cuisine. And that ambiance, paired with Barcelona's rapidly-developing rep as the world's most technologically wired city, has become the perfect incubator for another global evolution: the world's first culinary disruptor.
I know what you are wondering: Do those two words even go together? We think of disruptive technology in context to wireless technology, finance, manufacturing, etc. But gastronomic delight?
That's the beauty of disruptive innovation: It doesn't have impact unless it has potential societal change. And Reimagine Food, dreamed up by entrepreneur Marius Robles and Joaquin Sierra, is positioned to have just that global effect. The "Uberization of restaurants" is an intersection between our palate and the 21st-century demand for snappy options and rapid delivery.
"Reimagine Food is an ecosystem that creates and attracts initiatives out to rethink the world of food and cooking, the agrifood industry and the way we meet our food needs in the 21st century," says the company. "[We] bring together startups, food and beverage companies, and investors and bridge the gap between these groups and emerging, disruptive technology."
But perhaps its most challenging accomplishment is its food and tech accelerator, Prometheus, which is in its second edition. Last year's accelerator resulted in 220 entrants and 10 finalists that delved into everything from drone-based agriculture to 3-D printing to make the perfect meal for discerning gourmands.
This year, the accelerator is hoping for 15 enterprising startups "to cook the future of food." Enrollees will be able to participate remotely in the four-month program, with the exception of a one-month wrap-up in Barcelona. Entrants will also be scheduled to attend a number of conferences, including the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
True to form, Robles' and Sierra's accelerator model breaks a few conventions itself. First, there is no fee for entering the program, and Reimagine Food takes no equity in return. Instead, finalists pay a "success fee" for any services that it receives from the 100 or so industry specialists it introduces in the program. This year's 100 disruptors include Michael Bakker of Google Food; Nora Khaldi, founder of Nuritas; Danielle Gould, founder of Food + Tech Connect; Salim Ishmail, founding executive director of Singularity University; and Dan Kish, senior vice president of Panera Bread.
Imagine, say the founders, an accelerator that melds the talents of "Artificial Intelligence or Robotics experts, with AirBnB, Amazon, Google, Singularity University, MIT or Starbucks leaders [and] the best nutrition center in the world." What could be the outcome?
A whole new way of looking at food, and its consumer appeal.
In some ways, Reimagine Food's concept seems faintly reminiscent of convivial sharing economy experiments, such as BonAppatour, Kitchensurfing and Town Kitchen, where innovators step out of assumed conventions and neighbors, close and far away, come together to share in a well-cooked meal and a common goal.
But that's where the comparison stops. Reimagine Food isn't just about how and with whom we enjoy our food, but what it is that defines the culinary experience; what makes it engaging, and what makes the unconventional possible.
Is the future of food being virtually teleported to another universe where food is "built" to tantalizing specs by a specially constructed 3-D printer and served by congenial, well-dressed robots? Is it having your Michelin-star meal ordered with the push of a button on your watch? Or is it something we really haven't conceived and needs an inspired chef, an a few intrigued investors and a host of disruptors to figure out?
I'm betting on the latter, and like many, I'll be looking forward to seeing next year's outcome.
Prometheus runs Jan. 10 to March 25, 2016. Interested parties can apply online at Prometheus' web page.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.