The Inn of The Patriots and its participatory model for visitor engagement that leaves you with the memory of lifetime.

The Inn of the Patriots is creating something very unique, every day. And I wonder how long it will be before more inns start doing the same.

 In planning my intensive 5 month market research trip to the most ground breaking culinary specialists around America and Europe, I first heard of Marti Mongiello, a presidential chef who brings living history to the table and tours in a way that lets you learn by being involved. And every day, the Inn of the Patriots comes alive with a different story told through hearty recipes you enjoy, interactive performances, objects of historical significance, and culinary hands-on participation that lets you reconnect with the foodways of your own family from way back during the American Revolution.

Doesn't that sound like a core recipe of the newer emerging participatory museums around the world?

Tracing America's independence back in time from its presidency to its roots in the American Revolution, using the romanticism of something so universally understood as food, is a powerful business idea. Familiarity is always key to attracting a large audience and the Inn of the Patriots has a number of features:

  1.  The attraction of the presidency and the air of tension it creates.
  2. The romanticism of the American Revolution embellished by popular films like The Patriot that keep fueling our dreams.
  3. Food is a common denominator, a conversation starter and leveller that enables anyone to relate to another.

 In a number of interactive museums that use a participatory model, food is the last platform for bonding and developing a story, but at Marti's Inn it's the first. It starts subtly with a heritage breakfast that evolves into historical demonstrations, and that's just the beginning.

Have a look at their expansion plans and fund raiser:

Located in Grover, NC the owners of the highly awarded, successful inn, Presidential Culinary Museum, cooking institute, gift shops and spa with TV show series - The Inn of the Patriots - explain who, what, where, when, why and how of their proposed expansion onto a new property.

The growing demand for extreme engagement and its hidden learning potential

Tournament at Burgfest

Tournament at Burgfest

When you successfully overcome adversity against seemingly insurmountable odds or complete a task that involves so much risk that it appears to be at the edge of your limits and so daring your adrenalin levels peak, this is where you take the biggest step forward of learning in your life.

Festivals are spaces that activate this kind of extreme engagement and learning. People either actively seek out or are curiously drawn to opportunities to experience a new high and an amazing learning experience that helps them grow. There's loads of examples where this happens at Burgfest, and maybe a few less obvious ones worth designing for. 

1. There are the rides. I love this hand wound merry go round and a larger gravity-fed version at Burgfest (pictured above).

2. New and exotic tasting experiences by culinary tourists at festivals.

3. There's also role play, or role reversal more specifically. CEOs relish the opportunity to become the poor underdog, while those who have limited means aspire to dress as royalty for a day. At Burgfest I saw the warriors who dressed in the finest armour and those who were understated in style. A Viking I interviewed told me a story of how a doctor would dress down to become a dirty beggar at the festival, which unlocked a range of opportunities such behaving foul mouthed. Nobody suspected it was him for a while.

3. There's always the hero in show battles. These battles tend to have stalemates because most warriors stay in formation for protection. Breaking that pattern is the risk taker who suddenly emerges to take on the whole other army just to expose a weakness their own side can take advantage of. The battle that stood still for minutes is then suddenly over in seconds. And of course, there's nothing more gratifying than being the last one standing in a David and Goliath showdown - I remember many years ago, once being only armed with a spear, standing my ground against a heavily armed warrior and clan-leader who was charging me with shield and sword, and who was a fire fighter by day. Boy did I learn from the flash of insight in trying something new that lead to that unlikely victory. 

Former white House, Chef Marti Mongiello runs  The Inn of the Patriots , Presidential Culinary Museum and the Presidential Service Center.

Former white House, Chef Marti Mongiello runs The Inn of the Patriots, Presidential Culinary Museum and the Presidential Service Center.

Former White House Chef Marti Mongiello, who runs The Inn of the Patriots and the Presidential Culinary Museum in North Carolina, has been a major creative inspiration from the start. We agreed that there was a market for letting people experience similar role reversals and richly engaging learning experiences, where for example, you get to take the elevated risk of getting behind an oxen to plough the field just so you can experience what it was like for your grandfather to do it. Marti has been preserving America's colonial food cultures through living history events, including his own daily historical tours and heritage meals at the Inn. He does it in a way that connects people with the romanticism of the American Revolution and lets people play out their dreams of experiencing a "back to your roots" lifestyle.

Backing this market demand for rich engagement and learning on the edge are the growing number of games that are played as events in urban environments. Great examples are the artistic work by Invisible Playgrounds in Germany.

Traditionally games have ignited that kind of extreme mental activation in boss levels (the end game) and players have devoted hundreds of millions of playing-hours to this on an epic scale. In Sweden I found a growing desire among players (some of who were also foodies) for merging their digital play experience with the forest around them. And when you mix realities this way, you also open up opportunities to not only allow participants to influence a story that is played out in the field but also to decide what lasting value is left behind. Games like these then become platforms for the emerging Creative Tourism industry whose segment, as in Martis' case, may decide to help revive forgotten foods using wood fired ovens to feed the starving and musket clenching rebels hiding in the treetops of the North Carolinas.

Best Tech Opportunties at Festivals

EXPERIENCES (like this interactive shadow puppet show) at festivals are hands-on. They engage multiple senses.

EXPERIENCES (like this interactive shadow puppet show) at festivals are hands-on. They engage multiple senses.

If I asked you how you'd engage a festival audience of say 50K in a day, what technology would you use? 

Most would be quick to wonder if a mobile app would do the trick, but festival apps have been prone to fail. They're too lightly integrated into the festival to make any money and are only used once for the very short duration of the festival. It seems like a lot of work for little gain! It's a common concern in the games and festival industry I've found.

The good news is there's a range of interesting human and economic factors present at festivals that cry out for a very different use of technologies. Even mobiles and the internet can be used in real time, just differently to what you might expect.

Here's a short summary: 


  • Festivals are very natural & multisensory experiences.
  • Handheld technology like mobiles and cameras including products of any sort (eg maps) tend to be used for short bursts at a time and seldom (unless it's at a food bloggers conference).
  • Festivals are also too loud for mobile communication to be effective.
  • Mobile technologies and internet (on a desktop PC) works best before and after the festival.
  • Remote participation also enables a larger online audience in different time zones to participate live with each other and those at the festival, which is what I'm dedicating my time in development to.
  • People implement very old school ways of connecting with each other, like walking to find each other, sitting and talking, helping and working with one another face to face, and they expect to do so (especially at festivals meant to be historically accurate). It's like a village.
  • People learn through play in general, but at festivals they actively seek out new exotic experiences that challenge them. The culinary tourist at food festivals is 'bungy jumping' through their taste buds, pushing their limits for a thrill. I remember tasting the most exclusive range of artisanal herb infused goats milk cheeses and vanilla goats milk liqueur, but it was the goats salumi where I reached my limit.
  • Most festival audiences are not game players. The challenge is to provide them with a familiar playful experience without it being obvious that it's a game. The more familiar the experience is the wider the audience you get to engage in play. I use a ratio of at least 90% familiarity and 10% uniqueness where possible. It can be lower if you're targeting a niche audience and don't want to dilute the message.    

There are a few emerging and traditional categories of implementing technology at festivals that works however. 


1. Remote Participation Between Physical and Virtual Audiences.

There's an abundance of ways to facilitate the kind of interaction where those who can't make it to the festival experience it online instead by helping those who are at the festival. It can be both live and delayed using messaging, photo, video, audio and sharing of files.

I'm experimenting a lot with this at the moment, limited only by the availability of online software and electronics, and inspired by our team's imaginative story telling. 

The story of these two groups who need each other is that there is only so much the festival goers on the ground  are able to do on their own. They tend to be a small tightly knit group of people who bring their own unique skill sets. But that's sometimes not enough to overcome obstacles or perform tasks such as solving a mystery to the disappearance of a food culture. There's only so much they can achieve on their own. Sometimes it's a skill that's missing in the team and other times the team is limited by their own human senses. (Festivals as I pointed out above are the ideal space to play games that use all your senses in the same way you'd play Hide and Seek in a forest.)

Helping the party on the ground is an online audience that has been following and engaging them for quite some time prior to the festival game. It's now the chance of the online audience to give back and engage their idols on a more meaningful level and potentially even help leave something of lasting cultural value behind. For those who become most engaged, it feels like real satisfying collaboration.

And for the small team in the field it's like reaching out to borrow the sharp abilities of every animal in the zoo to become momentarily stronger, like saying "I'll have the eyes of a hawk who flies high above so I can get a bird's eye view and see what's coming way ahead of me. Then I need the long distance roar of a lion to signal everyone and the discrete stomp of an elephant that only those in my network will hear." And if we translate a beaver's knowhow to construct dams and a starfish's ability to regrow itself in a way that is inspiring the 3D printing revolution, I could imagine an exciting scenario of team work:

A day in Valentine's Day festival: The expedition comes across an antique oven with a missing hinged door. It needs replacement and restoration to get the oven fired up for re-learning a forgotten recipe said to be a delicious aphrodisiac. A photo showing the oven's maker is uploaded to the online community and they go to work sourcing images of what the whole oven complete with its door used to look like. One online member on another continent opts in to draft up a 3D file of the door, emails it to be 3D printed near the festival as a pattern for casting it out iron. The cast iron door is then delivered into the field where the expedition crew are waiting for it, like in the film Hunger Games.

This is only one major component of the new media format I'm developing. During my world trip I was inspired by Mats Adamczac's work in revolutionizing the digital gambling industry and a number of other interesting charity-giving projects that used social media technologies creatively. Mats predominantly embedded games in popular twitter feeds that had a healthy ecosystem of participation. When forming the games he made sure they couldn't be 'gamed' by strategically sprinkling in the player's need to also use other online platforms like Foursquare, Gowalla and Bambuser. Great games designed by Mats were Okampen ("Island Campaign"), Havskampen ('Harbor Campaign"). They were like an interactive version of orienteering, 1960's Rebus Rallies in Sweden, or the TV series The Amazing Race, except that the TV watchers got to help the racing team in the field.


2.Tools: "The Internet of Things"

On the surface these seem to be the familiar objects you'd find at outdoor events, in your home and workplace and even on the street. But built into them is electronics that connects to the internet so that you can do more with the objects.

A great example are the Budweiser paper Buddy cups that connect you on Facebook with whoever you toast with using the same cup. The cups use QR codes to 'capture' your Facebook account and NFC circuitry to 'share' it.


3. Wearable Tech

Wearable technologies that are seamlessly integrated into the equipment and clothing (leaving the user's hands free) can be empowering. For example, the warriors I interviewed at Burgfest loved the idea of wearing cameras embedded in their helmets to capture the battles from their own perspective. The potential of secretly wearing a microphone tickled their rebel fantasies while offering them a way to record their most ridiculous conversations, what they called Viking Humour. There is a wide range of sensors that can be built into clothing for triggering events and special effects around the wearer or sustaining their performance like Kolon Sport's Life Tech Jacket that houses its own wind turbine to power its electronics. 


4. Interactive Installations

Interactive installations are my forte. They can be purely mechanical or mechatronic ride, involve animatronic to give life to characters, or use any combination of these with digital technology. To monetise them it helps if they have a takeaway feature, or like the Buddy cups, perform a social task on the spot.

Another great example is the Fashionista Table I designed for the Frock Stars exhibition. As a visitor you were immersed in a digitally projected setting of a VIP fashion party. You could take photos of yourself with friends in poses together with your digitally projected fellow stars who stood with you. All these glamorous shots and photos of your clothes and accessories like shoes and bracelets went into the back Saturday-night party pages of a fashion magazine. There  you rearranged and captioned the photos before hitting "publish!". It was a real it that generated some heart warming moments where people serendipitously repurposed the interactive to create a record of themselves posing for their university graduation. I felt very fortunate.

Fashionista Table at the Frock Stars Exhibition.

Fashionista Table at the Frock Stars Exhibition.

And if you eat meat with a passion:

Picture being mad about eating beef, and entering a cooler where the finest marbled meets are on display. Standing before you is a full scale replica of a bull. Using hand gestures, you role play being a butcher dissecting the bull using digital animations projected onto the animal. With each gesture, you digitally cut away layers of the animal to reveal not only its organs but also why the meat is so fine and why the farmer is so proud of their produce and sustainable farming practices. Perhaps voice recognition even senses if you're in tune singing opera. The more in tune you are, the more of the animal and the endangered art of producing delicacies from animal offal and leftovers are revealed. 

What Drives You?

Piloting an interview during flight training high above Berlin.

2 Powerful Interviewing Questions

There are two powerful questions I ask whoever I interview:

1. What drives you?

2. What frustrates you?

Missing those two questions has sometimes resulted in wasted and unfulfilling interviews. That's how powerful they are. They are the kinds of questions that keep giving long after the interviews are over as I reflect on them and gain more experience.

Another thing is the strong bond this technique forms with a person. It can also pleasantly surprise you as the most heart warming part of a conversation. I've found that each person's driver and frustration is like a fingerprint. It's unique, and you can't guess it. 

I've asked over 100 industry leaders and underground creatives these two gems wherever I've found these amazing people, be they food activists, festival directors or designers reshaping our way of reading and consuming food... from Europe to the North Americas.

A major benefit of probing like this is to find out if a trend is forming. Is the interviewee's passion aligned with whatever is bubbling under the surface in a city - the 'stuff' that is the sign and precursor to a trend beginning to appear. Knowing that is way better than waiting for a trend report to come out months or years later.

While in Europe I was power-networking at an intense rate. Sylvie asked me how I could remember everyone I met and I put it down partly to those 2 questions:

1. I ask "What drives you to do what you do?" instead the one-dimensional question of "What's your goal?", which opens the conversation to many possible directions. I found those at the height of their career are so sure of their driver they will tell you immediately using only a few words, while those starting out will work it out by explaining their driver, often ending with a summary.

The question gives me clues to many things including their elusive dream of what they want to be doing. Because the games we create are based on the passions of real foodies I wanted to extend my list of questions to help me better mold their role in the game around them.

Positive Psychologist Dr. Lydia Jevleva who recently authored "Imagine: Using Mental Imagery to Reach Your Full Potential.", gave me a few hints:

You could ask "If you had one wish or a magic wand, what would you do with it?" to suspend negative thought and create the sense that their ambition is possible. You can also ask about what they haven't had the opportunity to do yet that they'd like to, which often results in potential ways to collaborate together I found.  

2. As a designer I like to solve technical problems, but people are emotional beings. So I ask "What frustrates you?" instead of "What's your problem?". It tells me what's stopping them from achieving their ambitions and getting in the way of their driver.  

From these two questions I build a memorable picture of the interviewee's direction and what they struggle with so that next time I meet the right person for them I'll instantly recall our earlier conversation and say "Hey I think I know someone who can help you, you two should connect."

Each time I raised these two questions when Sylvie and I co-interviewed, I could see her smile at me from the corner of my eye, knowing she was thinking "here we go again..." but the interviewees' answers always fixed her gaze back on them instantly. Their response was so unique and the bond in the room formed so fast. I will never forget those moments. Soon, asking these 2 questions became infectious.

Join me on twitter @foodfestgames and tell me:

What is it that drives you to do what you do in your career or life in general, and what frustrates you?

How Festivals Work Like Epic Games

Burgfest Post 3: Disruptive vs Integrative festival Experiences

Jousting about to take place at Burgfest

Festivals like games need a healthy balance on spaces that let you either be active or rest. Making up the active spaces is a wide range of dynamic experiences working in harmony, exactly as they do in games (game mechanics as it's called). Those experiences are either more disruptive or integrative, and are equally fun and important to the ecosystem of festivals .

I've developed the belief that integrative experiences are more sustainable and scalable, but the best result is a mix of both disruptive innovation and integration. Twitter-based urban games where you run around solving clues with your whole online social community helping you are great examples of that duality, not to mention the awesome PR potential they provide.

Examples at Burgfest:

Disruptive Experiences

Who: Street performers and rides

How: This group is dependent on finding a large group of people they can convert instantly into their audience. Their important function to festivals (like in games) is creating serendipity and spontaneity.

They either move from one location to the next seeking out sizeable congregations or they work the crowd where there is a steady stream of traffic. There's a fast turnaround of shows that interupts the traffic flow. Shows tend to be free or donation based but can be great PR for another event. 

Below: performer with a vegetable puppet theater and mechanically wound rides.


Integrative Experiences

Who: Bakers, warriors, stage bands etc

How: This group works with its audience, team members, competitors and anything else in the rich tapestry of the festival that surrounds them to make them more productive. The festival around them, and often even what goes on beyond the walls of the festival is their commercial network, world and often even their lifestyle. This model of operation is scalable.

This group builds their audience. They get started with a call to action in the morning, and they remain active in engaging their audience till the end of the day. Many remain in a productive flow between festivals, making the activity their lifestyle, one they enjoy greatly. 

How Festivals Work Like Epic Games

Burgfest Post 2: Popular festival experiences & merchandise

The most striking similarities I found between festivals and the Red Bull brand is how the most successful exhibiting businesses at Burgfest operated like its top performers. In fact I now see businesses and performers as one and the same. To simplify things further, I'll say that festivals nurture a performer-audience relationship, just like pop stars have their fans.

There's a recipe for spotting and creating popular festival experiences and merchandise that continually pull crowds or customers to performers all day long. At festivals it boils down to which customer relationships and products are most sympathetic to the common drivers and frustrations of the audience.

A simple example of how this works is Red Bull and its events. To me the brand is more than just an invitation to be active. The brand is a means for audiences to connect with their adventure-sporting idols through a flow of action and merchandise. Just like festivals, the events bring the idols and their audience closer together and match their excitement levels in a hive of activity that sees idol and audience feed of each other's effort. To sustain their state, a drink sympathetic of the audience's desire to stay feeling excited and active is served.

Now picture the moving mass of people at food festivals as being a bit like kids in a candy store, always on the lookout for the next great experience. Their ultimate goal is to remain feeling the delight of being in that flow. When they spot a performer that is as busy as they are, including any products that can help sustain their flow, they reach out to connect and a sale soon follows in many cases. It's like as if the audience is subconsciously saying "Hey you look like you're as active as I am, let's get together to maintain or even build off each other's flow." and  "I need an energy boost / a high to keep me going, your food and drink look like they'll keep me in the mood." The opposite effect is generated by performers who remain stationary with nothing to offer that is sympathetic to their audience's motivations. You can almost hear the avoiding traffic think, "I don't want to risk losing some of this wonderful flow I'm in to bring yours up to the same level as mine." That's not to say we're not a charitable human species, but just in that moment the audience chooses to stick with the 'champions'.

Together, the audience and performer build a healthy ecosystem that keeps them both in a positive flow, ripe for exchanges such as sales and attracting more customers.

The healthiest ecosystems at Burgfest were, in order:

1. Warriors

2. Bakers

3. Stage bands

4. BBQ grills


While some categories can be very creative and will be different across festivals, the way they work stays the same. I'll show how each of these categories work through a series of interviews in upcoming posts.

[Interestingly you'll find all of these ecosystems as motivational aids that keep you ina  positive flow longer in epic role playing games.]

Understanding how the most sympathetic relationships between the public and exhibitors can be constructed helps you both pick and create the experiences that makes a festival or pop-up show a hit.

How Festivals Work Like Epic Games

Burgfest Post 1: Preparing your audience.

Burgfest ("Fort Fest") is an annual festival for dark ages and medieval historical re-enactment. Every year, armies of warriors and artisanal food producers from as far away as Russia, converge on Neustadt Glewe in Germany to collaborate, live together and battle it out. It creates an amazing world I found to be reminiscent of the game mechanics of World of Warcraft (WoW) and brand values of Red Bull - features that make festivals happiness engines. So I entered the festival looking for signs of how people stayed in a fulfilling productive flow that lead them to experience a more sustainable feeling of happiness.

Before even entering the festival grounds you're prepared by an exclusive authentic experience. It's the majestic architecture of a town that hasn't changed for hundreds of years. Just look at how the buildings lean and sag under the weight of real heritage.

It's that authenticity that sets the mood and gives you a clue to the likely fun rules, goals and rewards that lie ahead of you. The subliminal effect is similar to a trailer video or a digital attractor designed to entice you to jump into an unfamiliar experience with anticipation of what you'll get to do next. [An attractor is an audio visual trick I used to implement to invite curiosity. It works by giving bypassing public a snapshot of what would happen if they engaged an interactive experience (which included the rules, fun obstacles and rewards they'd get to play with) all in about 10 seconds.]

At the entry, you get a discount on the ticket for having come dressed for the theme. Good monetisation can behave like a game - it's voluntary, sets the rules, and you get something back and even rewarded for fulfilling a set of goals. What I like about this model is that it taps into your love of heritage and lets you decide how far you want to go to prepare yourself with your friends for the festival. It essentially makes the festival both viral and a part of your lifestyle long before the event is even launched - a great branding exercise. I'm fascinated about the branding and monetisation potential of empowering audiences to prepare themselves long in advance.

And if you're a new visitor and came unprepared, you'll be able to kit your costume out at dozens of markets as part of the fun of exploring and role playing your back-to-your-roots persona you've had a hankering to reconnect with.  

The introductory experience worked a treat in preparing me. Nowhere else was I going to be welcomed like I am in an epic game, except this was better. It was authentic. 


World trip inspires real food revival games for festivals.

A performer at Burgfest, Neustadt Glewe, Germany in June 2013. Photo by Sylvie Gustafsson. 

I'm excited about this first post. Partly because it takes me back to where my journey started last December 2013, before I embarked on the most intensive and extensive global market research trip I had ever heard of, one that nearly left Sylvie and myself more than just knackered. Partly also because it resembles a new chapter in the story of developing a new media format for the world of food festivals, one that revives endangered culinary traditions - - you know, the sensible, fun and intriguing way your grandparents made real food taste so good that it made you instinctively say "Wow, can I have a go doing that!"

After travelling for 5 months through Europe, America, Hawaii and Canada, I determined the game model would serve 3 purposes: The 1st is to help food festivals capture a newer, more interactive global virtual and physical audience that is seeking authentic opportunities of collaborative play. The 2nd is that the games will serve as a serious platform for championing long-forgotten culinary cultures by innovating their foods. And the last is to keep the experience evolutionary across a string of festivals around the world.

But developing anything new is easier said than done. To do it I'm going to reflect on my interviews and call on your participation in preparation for prototyping: 

I'll take you on a story and give you the latest in thinking among industry leaders and underground creatives from 4 tourism industries ( adventure, culinary, creative and heritage) plus the games industry in Europe and the North Americas. I'll also tell you what drives them to do what they do.  Finally, your constructive alternative views, ideas, links and discussions will help either refine the format's design and tighten its definition or build context to the posts thereby broadening its appeal to other industries. All in the name of bringing the new media format to the world in a monetisable form that benefits the end user, and bringing back the foods we love from the times we cherish and dream about.

Next I'm going to dive straight into reflecting on why Germany's Burgfest psychologically works just like a well designed game & business, how it relates to the world's most successful brands, and the untapped opportunities that lie within. 

Watching delectable crepes being made fresh at Burgfest. Ah, childhood memories. Photo by Sylvia Gustafsson

I start here (June 2014) because Burgfest was the first pivotal moment in understanding how to design powerful festival experiences. Throughout the trip I learned a massive amount, but every so often someone, a place or an event like Burgfest would trigger a eureka moment and a big leap forward in my work. Leading up to this starting point was many months of preparation and years of dedication to applying my own and other designer's theories in the science of play through designing interactive exhibitions at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum (one of Australia's largest museums). I'll dip into that knowledge base and people's inspirational work I'm grateful for occasionally.



Sylvie Gustafsson has always believed in me since the days we designed the Magic Garden together in 2008. She joined me at the start in Germany and then again on the North American leg of the investigative journey, and you'll see her great photography here. I keep learning from her and her creative leadership.

Sylvie is a cultural scientist and a children's philosopher who brought Sydney the Magic Garden's Time Machine that helped make the educational play space a cultural phenomenon in the streets here during its incredible 6 year life. At the time her use of interactive media with children's philosophy was a new milestone achieved.

Mary Kurek, my PR agent and professional networker was always with me (virtually, from afar in North Carolina). I approached her in December 2013 with my new collaborative economic model I wanted to test through a game. Before its inception I had spent a year investigating culinary tourism since discovering a cookbook that serendipitously took me up the Swedish west coastline of island bakeries and knew that a mass-collaborative game for food festivals that awakened the culinary tourist within us was the ideal fit for a popular experience. Mary then set up high level connections for me to interview. Soon I began to develop a multimodal method of investigation I believe to be more powerful, faster and therefore better suited to innovators and early adopters than many number of good trend forecasting reports I have enjoyed reading.

I laugh now because a short while before I embarked on the trip Mary said the trip is not something she would do. Would or could? It was epic and there's no way I could have done it alone, or keep going without you as the reader and the amazing professional connections and friends I've made along the way.

And a real thank you to my family for their ongoing support.