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INTERVIEW: Leslie Deere talks to Angella Newell and Hayley Sudbury, the founders of the Tasting Sessions

The Tasting Sessions are monthly themed events involving Michelin star chefs, newly commissioned contemporary art, theatrical performance, fashion, music and really, really good drinks. Self titled, experience curators, Angella Newell and Hayley Sudbury have spent the last two years building the Tasting Sessions brand.

Imagine entering a secret east London warehouse, being blindfolded and handed a dark chocolate shell filled with a citrus ganache with a small vile of top shelf tequila poking out of the top. Or perhaps you’re asked to step through a tiny door in the wall, entering a fairy tale land where the furniture is on the ceiling and Snow White is a man. Welcome to the Tasting Sessions, where the fantastical comes to life.

Leslie Deere is one of a group of artists working with Tasting Sessions for their upcoming event. She met up with Angella and Hayley in Bethnal Green to talk about how the Tasting Sessions came about.

How did it all begin? Two Aussie ladies movie to London…

AN: Hayley and I have known each other for about 2 ½ years. We met while having some drinks with mutual friends in London. She’d been here for about 6 months looking for some great people to connect with, and I think she was a little bit bored.

HS: I was.

AN: Hayley told me about a vineyard she wanted to set up one day and I told her about a dairy that I’d like to set up and we thought there was a natural marriage between the two of those.

HS: Because when you look at Angella, you think dairy.

AN: I eat a lot of cheese. Anyway, so we got along like a house on fire. We decided to sample the wares of food and drink that London had to offer.

HS: In large quantities.

AN: Yes, lots of champagne. We tore apart London basically. Then we decided to make something more productive out of that energy and passion. We developed an idea for an event that we ourselves would want to go to. Something that brought together all the things we love - food, drink, art, fashion, music, film, all the elements of design. So the Tasting Sessions was born.

Are there events like this in Australia?

HS: Not really, not that we’ve seen. We think traditionally there are a lot of people exactly like us who want a great experience around food and drink, not just smashing back 40 margaritas, although we’ve all done that.

Or cocktail parties with really bad food?

HS: Yes, or really fine wines that are unapproachable and people don’t feel comfortable to learn more about it. Maybe it's the age where people want to learn more, but in a fun way. Our events still have a serious side, but we looked for a way to turn that on its head and make things approachable. Including elements like music and art makes it immersive instead of just a standard tasting.

Was involving art always part of the plan?

HS: We worked with Riflemaker during the Concrete and Glass Festival at the Rochelle School. There was a tasting about biodynamic wine going on around art installations. It was fantastic. At that point we moved into the art world more intensely.

We’ve always tried to do interesting things though. Saf launched their catering business with us. It was all about matching biodynamic wines with raw food, and showing how those flavors work and it's a completely unique experience.

Anything we’ve done we’ve wanted to do it well. We’re working with a Michelin start chef, Rupert Blease, at the moment who’s going to create the feast at our next event. It's great rating the Michelin star thing, but they’re artists in their own right and they use locally sourced produce and they’re pushing boundaries through food. Food is what they use to create.

What’s been your favorite Tasting Sessions event?

HS: For me it was the festival last year because that seriously brought in the music and art elements. We worked really hard to bring in the right brands – a fantastic mix of boutique and artisanal brands working here in the UK. We had a new spirit launched at the event that hadn’t come out yet. That was the first event where I’ve thought: fuck we’ve done it!

AN: I have to agree the festival was probably my favorite, but second to that it would have to be the gin event last September. We featured these wonderful designers that had been creating pieces for Estethica, which is London Fashion Week’s ethical fashion arm. We had gorgeous models walking around in themed clothing that fit with the historical time period that we were working with around gin.

Prior to the festival though we focused on one anchor, rather than integrating all of them. You know, this one is about art, this one is about fashion…
Whereas now, we feel there’s a much more symbiotic relationship between all of those.

There have been several experiential theatre events lately, but not any I can think of on this scale with Michelin level tasting menus.

AN: We’ve had quite a big performance element coming through now and that will continue. We’re looking to incorporate performance in an improv way for this next event. Theatrics are a really great way to transport people into a different mind set.

How do you come up with the themes? Where do the ideas start for each event?

HS: Basically I think it’s all the acid Ange used to take.

AN: Well, I think it has to be grounded in something relevant to the category we’re interested in, but in a fairly lateral way.

But why Gin last September, for instance?

AN: Well there’s an element about us wanting to learn more about something we’re interested in. For instance with the gin event we took three different touch points in the history of gin based around the Hogarth engravings and Gin Lane. Largely it’s based around a lot of societal trends, things that are going on. So it’s something people are starting to get interested in – and then a critical following is fairly easy to bring on board because there’s a level of curiosity about what we’re trying to explore.

HS: We try to be on the front foot too. We want to be a couple of steps ahead and learn about what’s coming up.

It sounds like a great deal of research goes into each event and I imagine that you learn a lot during the process?

AN: We do, but we never profess to be the experts, we always bring people in that have specific knowledge.

What are the future plans for the Tasting Sessions?

AN: We’ve got some fairly serious plans. One of them is the international expansion – working across a global network of artists, musicians and people that can bring these experiences to a broader and more diverse crowd. We’re looking at working in New York as early as January of next year, possibly working in Asia as well.


Tequila: The Reconciliation. Transforming a Shoreditch location into a maximum-security prison, guests will make peace with their nemesis on Tuesday, 17th August, 2010.

For more information and tickets:

Every year the Tasting Sessions has a festival, which is like one of their monthly events amplified. Check the site for more details.

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