One of South America’s most robust and stable economies, Chile has been producing high-quality agricultural crops for centuries on its fertile lands, making the country today the 16th largest food exporter in the world.
This fact is completely lost on most people, who are only familiar with Chile as a wine-producing country with a viticultural history going back more than 400 years to the time of the Spanish conquistadors.
“It’s worth mentioning that, every day, 7.4 million people in the world eat Chilean salmon and 9.8 million people drink Chilean wine. That’s what we want to promote about our country,” says Herman Beck, director of commercial office at Pro Chile, a division of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tasked with promoting the nation’s exports and tourism.
One of these promotional efforts was a two-day event held in Tokyo to stimulate his country’s food and wine exports through the culinary experience of a sit-down dinner and a wine-tasting session.
Each of the two events, held back-to-back and dubbed “Chilean Flavours” and “Chile Wine Events”, attracted about 350 of Japan’s top food exporters to the newly renovated Kiku ballroom on the fourth floor of the Hilton Tokyo in the city’s skyscraper district of Shinjuku.
“For our exporters, these events offer a unique opportunity to meet importers and distributors and have direct contact with people who can open doors for them in a new market,” Beck says.
The first step in the process of organising the promotion was finding a first-class facility that had a team of local chefs who were flexible and had the ability to prepare the dishes – the stars of the events – to the exacting standards specified by a renowned Chilean chef.
“The main idea of the event was that the dishes and wines impart a ‘message of flavour’. Every item on the menu was paired with a specially chosen wine. What really made this event a memorable one was that after the experience of tasting, some local businessmen would be persuaded to buy Chilean foodstuff for the first time and our existing partners would continue to support us,” says Beck.
The minimalist interiors of the Kiku ballroom, designed in the “iki” style of simple elegance that goes back to the 17th century Edo period, served as a counterpoint to the burst of flavours that gave more than a hint of the richness and passion behind Chilean cuisine.
Pre-dinner cocktails were served in the distinctive Kiku banquet lobby furnished with a bar counter centrepiece and comfortable sofas, where guests could interact freely in a living-room atmosphere.
During the dinner, a performance of traditional dances was staged to complete the Chilean theme.
Beck was very specific in his brief that the event must be glitch-free. He asked that the waiters and audiovisual staff be all capable and experienced, so that the dinner and the wine-tasting session could be held in optimum conditions.
For the “Chile Wine Events” on the second day, the hotel transformed the set-up of the Kiku ballroom in just over 12 hours. The event had two parts: there was a wine seminar with a classroom-style set-up and a wine tasting-cum-exhibition with an exhibition set-up.
The Kiku ballroom can be divided into three parts. The “Chile Wine Events” used two of them: the Kikka-yo and Kikuen function rooms.
“During these events, the face-to-face meetings helped our guests gain a better understanding of our food and wine and they could be assured that the people they were dealing with were the ones responsible for the products on offer,” says Beck.
He believes that Chilean exporters also benefited from the local experience and meetings with their Japanese counterparts. “We need to understand that different countries have different cultures and different ways of doing business. We are also very focused on that. A good understanding of these two concepts can help our exporters to do business.”
Event: Chilean Flavours and Chile Wine Events
Venue: Kiku Ballroom, Hilton Tokyo
Date: June 3-4, 2010
Organiser: Pro Chile