Studio Taste Lab at the Irvine Marriott

As a local blogger, I get invitations to attend previews of food places and community events. I was recently invited to a new food experience called Studio Taste Lab at the Irvine Marriott, and graciously accepted this generous invitation.  With my friends Matt and Christine Klousia, here’s a recap of this memorable event:

STUDIO TASTE LAB at the Irvine Marriott

On Thursday night, the Irvine Marriott invited bloggers from all over Orange County for a new food experience called Studio Taste Lab. It is part of their completion of their newest remodel of the hotel, where they want to showcase their newest direction, that the hotel is more of a canvas than a hotel. When we first arrived at the M Club we were greeted with champagne and passed appetizers.There was a wine station with both red and white wines along with crudites, fried shrimp bites and salads.

General Manager, Scott McCoy introduced himself and explained how this is the first of three experiences that are designed to have you immersive yourself in the the senses of Sight, Smell, Sound, and Touch. We were rotated to a different lab every 15 minutes, and the starting point was based on your lighted bracelet we received at check in.

Also in attendance were two executive chefs, Thomas Horner of the JW Marriott and Michael Poompan from the Coronado hotel, along with the Irvine Marriott’s representatives: head chef, Adrian Hernandez and lead mixologist, Ravin Buzzell.

After the introductions, we started our experience with the most anticipated YNK room. YNK, which stands for You Never Know, which was the most immersive experience. As we walked in, we were handed a set a earplugs, and were suddenly transported into the world of Asia with giant screens and smoking decanters.

This small room changes approximately every 8 weeks, and every detail from the artwork and smells of musk to the hand-drawn menus are all taken care of by mixiologist Ravin Buzzell. He said this room can seat up to 17 comfortably, and how he believes making a cocktail should be a work of art. Another interesting fact is that menu always contains previous hand written pages, so at the end you will have what he called quote ” a travel journal of cocktails”.

The drinks are all made to fit the surroundings.One of the drinks he is offered contains alcohol infused bobba, which is a popular Asian tapioca. Although he drives at being different, he also calls himself old fashioned, so that is why he created the old fashioned drink for us. It was at that point he had us put in the earplugs, and just watch as he created the drink. Watching the drink being made and hearing nothing but your own deep breathing was memorizing. So many components go into making the drink, including swirling the drink in smoke. Truly, we recommend visiting the Irvine Marriott, for no other reason than go to check out the YNK lounge.

Our second experience was using our sense of “smell”  with Irvine Marriott executive chef Adrian Hernandez, accompanied by the UC Irvine Capella group providing background music. With the hotel’s own herb wall as our background, a large glass dome with smoke was placed in front of us. As tempted a it was to open it right away, we were told to wait and open them at the same time. First, you smelled the smoke, then garlic, rosemary before finally tasting the lamb, with a hint of tomato at the end. This meat was perfectly cooked and by taking the time to really smell the dish, it made that even more enjoyable.

In the next lab, Tomas Horner of the JW Marriott told us how he drew the lucky straw of “sound”. Here, we got to taste food from the sea while listening to the ocean waves. A selection of music accompanied our “three bites” of food.

  • The first was Ceviche of Geoduck, which had a crisp taste of lime and cucumber.
  • Next was a cold smoked scallop and
  • third, was a Sous Vide Octopus with a Nori Crisp Crunch.

All three bites were so fresh and the display was simple and elegant.

Our final lab was “touch” and perhaps the most surprising.

Michael Poompan from the Coronado Hotel had touch and made his elegant dish from the sweet chantenay carrot. This playful dish was built all off the texture of the carrot. Four layers of this carrot made up this almost most dessert plate manipulating all the textures of this simple vegetable. It taught me how with just a few simple touches you can really elevate a dish.Everyone in our group was very impressed with it.

Our labs had concluded and after the closing remarks we were headed on our way with a lovely gift box.It was a great experience and taught us so much about how our senses contribute to your meal. The Irvine Marriott created a really amazing experience and we are excited to experience another one soon.


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