Opinion

Storytelling Through Culinary Experience

FoodLab Sydney’s Eva Perroni explores the idea of storytelling as something absolutely central to our food practices, bringing us together and giving meaning to our lives through shared culinary experiences.

Reuben Hills in Sydney. Image by Daniel Norris via Unsplash

Storytelling is central to human existence and common to every culture. It is a powerful tool in human communication; from daydreams to books, to television commercials or the theatre, stories saturate our lives. Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature – a face, a figure, a flower – it also detects patterns in information. Stories are recognisable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. They allow us to explore the depths of our lives, vicariously live through the experiences of others, map connections between memories, ideas and future visions, while creating connections with each other. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once famously said, “the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

In all communities, in all cultures, stories evolve from the culinary experience. Now food and everything about it is at the very centre of modern culture, there are entire television series and networks devoted to it. Chefs today often share stories about what makes their dishes unique, whether that’s the methods that they use in preparation, menu descriptions that describe the origin or seasonality of ingredients, or the stories of the farmers and their careful, considerate stewardship of seeds and the Earth.

There is good reason for the popularity of stories among chefs, restaurants, food businesses and brands. While the real, the genuine and the true have always been at the heart of the consumer experience, now more than ever, people’s desire for “the real thing” has now been amplified. In food and drink, this is reflected by consumers increasing distrust of “Big Food” companies and the products they create. With incomprehensible ingredient lists, the inclusion of purposefully obscured genetically modified organisms and veiled transnational food supply-chains, the formulation (and reformulation) of industrial food-like products has severed food from any meaningful connection to the place and people from which it came.

“People want to understand where their food comes from, how it was sourced, how it was made, and what exactly constitutes the meal they are eating. They are searching for connections and shared experiences.”

People want to understand where their food comes from, how it was sourced, how it was made, and what exactly constitutes the meal they are eating. They are searching for connections and shared experiences, viewing dining experiences or food purchases as a form of self-expression. Part of FoodLab Sydney’s 10-week business curriculum is a highly interactive storytelling workshop designed to help participants craft the story behind their food product or business, whether it’s their passion, origin, values or commitment to serving their communities through good food. In collaboration with a range of storytelling and industry experts, participants workshopped ways to craft a compelling and honest representation of the story behind their food.

“Part of FoodLab Sydney’s 10-week business curriculum is a highly interactive storytelling workshop designed to help participants craft the story behind their food product or business, whether it’s their passion, origin, values or commitment to serving their communities through good food.”

“I feel like one of the most interesting discoveries I made during this storytelling workshop is the self-realisation about being true to your passion,” says Andrei Balingit, FoodLab participant and founder of Tata Rods.

Andrei’s business motivation behind Tata Rods is to showcase Filipino food through sausages and pork belly flavoured with ingredients and spices native to his hometown in the Philippines, with a mission to bring these delicacies and flavours to Sydney food lovers.

“If I could share my story, it would start at my childhood in Tarlac sneaking around the kitchen, to undertaking my culinary studies, to coming to Sydney as a student and working in a five-star hotel, to transforming my childhood passion into a food business. I want people to read my story and be inspired: if I can do it, they can too. Hopefully someday Filipino food will be as equally recognisable as other more well-known cuisines.”

As part of the mentorship opportunities FoodLab Sydney provides, Andrei and other FoodLab participants have the opportunity to showcase their stories to food industry and storytelling professionals, gaining meaningful feedback from those who know how to craft a compelling story.

“I’ve loved the journey of defining my own story because of the input from so many others who have guided, nuanced, challenged and supported the moulding of my tale,” says Jade Miles of Black Barn Farm and guest mentor, who contributes to workshops and conferences for the development of local food enterprises across Australia. “When I’m asked to support learning opportunities for people to better tell their story, it’s a great way of giving back what has been offered to me and to hear the wonderful raw, innovative stories of others.”

Participants and mentors collaboratively reflect on the purpose of their business beyond the products they wish to sell, determining the “why” that propels their motivation, the development of their niche food product and the impact they want to have in the world of good food.

Both my students were developing really exciting projects driven by their intuitive, primal desires to connect people to the food they eat through accessibility, learning and skills development,” says Jade. “Hearing their deepest held drivers behind their concept was an uncovering of their ‘why’, which is always hard to define but the core of the reason to connect.”

As the sharing of food has always been part of the human story, food has always been a powerful vehicle for storytelling. Our personal stories are condensed into memories and morsels, garnishing our identities and enhancing our connectedness. Part of FoodLab Sydney’s mission is to guide people through the journey of creating a unique food business, starting with their stories. Through encouraging participants to connect and share the unique aspects of themselves and their business, we’re collectively cultivating a richness, vibrancy and diversity to add to the local food business ecosystem.

FoodLab Sydney is a for-purpose food business incubator aimed at increasing diversity and participation in the local food business ecosystem in Sydney. The program caters to people from different walks of life, backgrounds, cultures, and with different food ideas, but each with a passion and desire to make a difference in their lives, or their communities, through food.


Eva Perroni is a doctoral student at FoodLab Sydney, an interdisciplinary project supported by University of Sydney’s Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) and UNSW Canberra, in partnership with the City of Sydney, and TAFE NSW addressing local food insecurity through participatory social enterprise. Her research will assess opportunities and processes in building a participatory culture to effectively address food insecurity and social exclusion within local communities in Sydney.