25 Jul 2010

Multi-Sensory Eating

For a dish to be truly incredible, it needs to appeal to every sense. Taste, is only one tiny part of the reality of gastronomical enjoyment.

1. Sight - the saying “you eat with your eyes” is no exaggeration. This is the sense that overrides all others. If you don’t believe me, Google psychologist Paul Rozin and read about his experiments with fudge or visit Dans Le Noir restaurant and experience just how challenging it is to eat blindfolded. Our natural instincts draw us to fresh greens, red meats, vibrant fruits, natural colours – choose your dish accordingly. Also think about the size and shape of the plates - does it make the food look plentiful or stingy? If you are doing a lot of styling, how does the meal look on your chosen linen colour?

2. Smell – is biologically connected to taste, in fact smelling the food is in effect the first bite. Don’t make the food fight for attention with other smells. Consider your floral arrangements, lilies might make an incredible centrepiece but ask your florists to remove all bar a few of the stamens. For a more natural, more appetising perfume, ask your florist to use herbs in the displays. At one of our recent weddings, ribboned garlands of rosemary, sage and lavender were tied to the back of each chair releasing a soft scent of English summertime whenever guests moved. Never use scented candles or incense during the meal – it’s just too much. And of course, no smoking!

3. Sounds – one of Heston Blumenthal’s most infamous dishes is “Sound of the Sea” which is served with an iPod so that you can listen to waves crashing on a beach as you eat it. This, he believes, enhances the taste and helps people to take their time whilst savouring every mouthful. What music or sounds will accompany your meal? If you are providing your venue with an iPod for background music, make sure that the playlist avoids anything with a fast or heavy beat – your guests will be finished in seconds! My recommendation is soft jazz, gentle swing or classical guitar. If you’re printing a menu, read the food aloud (perhaps in your best impression of those M&S ads) and check that it sounds irresistible.

4. Touch – the texture of a dish is often overlooked, but it’s important to remember that your palette craves variety. If the main element of a dish is soft and creamy incorporate an element of crunch and vice versa. Think across the courses, for example a soup starter with brulee dessert is a mistake (too much liquid) as would a tomato tarte tatin starter with a lemon tarte dessert (too much pastry). Cream in every course is too much even for the most adamant Francophile. When it comes to styling, good cutlery, crystal glassware and crisp linen will all help to enhance the experience but the most important element of touch? Easy. A comfortable, wobble free chair with a good back and plush seat pad.

5. Taste - of course! In Western cultures, we describe taste in terms of four flavours: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. I prefer to use the Chinese palette philosophy with the added dimensions of spice (piquance) and savoury. This final flavour, known as “unami”, is that xfactor ingredient that makes you crave more and more. 100% natural ingredients, it’s becoming so popular that you can now buy “unami paste” in Waitrose. This is a fabulous product to have at home, it makes something ordinary food taste utterly delicious! I love using it and am thrilled that someone has captured “the fifth flavour” in a squeezy tube. Try it yourself http://www.laurasanttini.com/. Remember that whatever flavours you incorporate in your menu, good caterers will season to perfection, they may not even put condiments out (we don’t).

6. The Sixth Sense – never underestimate the power of intuitive service. Our managers have been called mind readers on more than one occasion and have the magical power to put guests completely at their ease. Meeting this final sense sets the best caterers apart from the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, I think I've learnt something today!