Evolving tastes in what we eat
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’