Evolv­ing tastes in what we eat

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Rose Prince

Blu­men­thal plays ef­fec­tively with the con­cept of com­bin­ing her­itage and ex­per­i­men­tal, re­viv­ing me­dieval dishes and his­tor­i­cal in­spi­ra­tion and ideas, us­ing hi-tech meth­ods to bring them to the ta­ble.

I do not doubt the de­sire of mod­ernist chefs to pro­vide the­atre for their din­ers, though in the wrong hands this wiz­ardry can go hor­ri­bly wrong. When an ap­ple crum­ble comes in a cloud of dry ice and the waiter sprays a squirt of per­fume up your nose that con­tains the “nature iden­ti­cal” (ar­ti­fi­cial) scent of wind­falls while recorded or­chard bird­song tweets on a loop, it’s not en­ter­tain­ing; it is dis­tract­ing and ir­rel­e­vant.

This is also a highly en­light­en­ing book on how the food in­dus­try can de­ceive a con­sumer’s re­sponse to pro­cessed food. Food tech­nol­ogy is noth­ing new; there are hun­dreds of ar­ti­fi­cial pro­cess­ing aids.

But now the food and hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try is dis­cov­er­ing how to play on our senses, not just in ob­vi­ous ways, us­ing aroma or chang­ing mouth­feel, but un­der­stand­ing vis­ual re­sponse to the shapes of graph­ics on la­bels or how the back­ground colour of a pack­age influences flavour, mak­ing the con­tents seem sweeter.

In one ex­per­i­ment, Spence dishes up rab­bit at one of his “lab din­ners”, giv­ing din­ers cut­lery with rab­bit fur wrapped around the han­dles: “Sit­ting around the din­ing ta­ble, we all ten­ta­tively held the soft furry skin in our ‘paws’, the faint aroma of the an­i­mal em­a­nat­ing from our hands … straight away every­one had a much greater aware­ness of where our din­ner had re­ally come from.”

You’d hope a bunch of sci­en­tists do know where rab­bits come from, but I can see this kind of work be­ing valu­able in the ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren and in en­cour­ag­ing the search for a sus­tain­able food sup­ply. Gas­tro­physics may change mind­sets to­wards the value of eat­ing in­sects, for ex­am­ple.

But the shift­ing world of gas­tron­omy no doubt will soon see cheff­ing en­ter an­other phase, and I do not mind if it is sin­gle sen­sory — that is, the food tastes good. Any­thing be­tween de­cent and exquisitely ex­e­cuted is fine by me. Never mind the sound ef­fects, I’ll just cry with joy if the fish is fresh. is a food writer and for­mer chef.

Bri­tish chef He­ston Blu­men­thal is in the van­guard of ‘ex­pe­ri­en­tial din­ing’

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