Collaboration, Family Dinner and the Future of Food

A conversation with Mike Lee

Three-time Eat Retreater Mike Lee (pictured right) is known for epic underground dining stunts with his supperclub StudioFeast as well as his expertise in product development and strategy. Now he’s looking ahead, way ahead, inventing foods of the future with Studio Industries.

You recently founded Studio Industries. What’s the focus of this venture?

Studio Industries is my food innovation and design agency that I founded in November 2014. We work with food companies of all kinds to design better food products. We just launched our first self-produced project called The Future Market, a conceptual grocery store from the year 2065. Our goal with The Future Market is to show—through a virtual and physical pop-up store—what kinds of products you might find in a grocery store 50 years from now.

Tell us about some of your latest collaboration with fellow Eat Retreat Alumni?

It’s been so amazing to work with fellow Eat Retreaters, Emily Dellas and Jeff de Picciotto, on building the initial concepts for The Future Market. Both of them are not only amazing talents in the kitchen but two of the most creative and fun people to work with. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Lauren Jupiter, co-founder of AccelFoods, an accelerator for packaged food startups. I’m the innovation director over there and it’s been an amazing ride with them. I love the fact that I met and bonded with these people over oyster puppets, campfires, and talent shows, and now I’m lucky enough to work with them.

Oh, and in February I’m getting married to Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect and also an Eat Retreat alum. This will be my biggest collaboration with anyone in 34 years. I can’t wait.

You’ve been thinking about the future. What do you think dinner parties will be like in 2065?

They’re going to be awesome. Just in the past 10 years, we’ve seen the maker culture grow like a weed and people are creating so many incredible things in their own homes, especially in food. The home kitchen has become a creative studio and food business launchpad, and it will be even more so in 2065. As for the dinner parties, I think you’ll see a much blurrier line between what home cooks can do and what restaurant kitchens do. Restaurants will still have a big role, but dinner parties will be as exciting as ever with people producing amazing food at home with their own hands.

What’s the latest meal you cooked?

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, so the last thing I cooked was about a month ago: grilled, spatchcocked chicken and vegetables served with a curried cauliflower soup that Emily Dellas made in my kitchen. This was a “staff” meal for The Future Market team, which was putting in some serious hours making a few thousand Crop Crisps, our concept product crackers, for a Future of Food event in Brooklyn. We ate this food in my backyard by candlelight, as the mosquitoes ate us.

You grew up near Detroit. What​’s a favorite​ food memory from your time in the Midwest?

My favorite food memories are family dinners with my entire extended family, who all live in the suburbs of Detroit. My grandfather opened up one of the first Chinese-American restaurants in Detroit in 1955, and my parents, aunts and uncles all have restaurants, too. Thanksgiving and Christmas were one of the few days my family were truly off work, so all of us pitched in to make these epic Chinese-American holiday meals. We’re talking 17 different dishes for up to 35 people. You’d see two Cantonese roast ducks sitting on the table next to an 18 pound oven-roasted turkey and another 18 pound deep fried turkey. I could sleep for days after these meals.