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Eculent - Kemah, Texas (Photo/Ran DeBord)

Gastro physics:

Updated: February 27, 2019

More than our five senses are involved in our opinion of how a meal will taste.

How much more may surprise you.

University of Oxford psychology professor Charles Spence recently published his book:  Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating

Spence shows how our senses link up in the most extraordinary ways, and reveals the importance of all the "off-the-plate" elements of a meal: the weight of cutlery, the colour of the plate (his lab showed that red is associated with sweetness - we perceive salty popcorn as tasting sweet when served in a red bowl), the background music and much more. He examines the way our five senses, as well as something we innately know ~ our emotional states and expectations ~ influence how we experience food.  

“The pleasures of the table reside in the mind, not the mouth,” he controversially writes.

Using the entire range of human senses in a restaurant setting is not new, nor cheap, but is something to be experienced.

In the 16th century, musicians were already composing music to complement feasts, while the 1930s saw a lively band of Italian futurists cooking up ingenious dinner parties. They sprayed perfume in diners’ faces, served frog’s legs to the sound of croaking, and even, Spence reveals, suggested parties where guests should be instructed “to stroke their neighbours’ pyjamas, made of different materials, while dining” Spence points out.

Top chefs have jumped on the trend. 

Eculent, a small, "Modern Farm-to-Table restaurant" in Kemah, Texas, developed a prix fixe dining experience over two years ago in which the lighting, digital picture frames, music, and ambient "scents" changed with each course.

Owner/Executive Chef, David Skinner, is at the forefront of immersive dining in the Houston area: "During the nine-course dinner we change the ambient smell, the lighting, the artwork, and the music that accompanies each course," says Skinner.

In addition to organically grown vegetables, herbs, and greens in three on-site gardens, Skinner spent years traveling the world and identifying farmers, ranchers, and purveyors to produce the products needed for his trendsetting restaurant.

The queen of the Houston food scene, Cleverley Stone (CBS  650 AM, FOX 26, Houston Restaurant Weeks), is impressed with what Skinner is doing. "He is doing an amazing job at Eculent with the immersive dining experience." 

She went on to say... "he is the only chef I am aware of who is doing things like that [in Houston]."


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'Eculent' Owner/Executive chef David Skinner (left), talks with legendary radio broadcaster Dayna Steele, prior to dinner service. (Photo/Ran DeBord)

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Drawing on his own research and others’, Spence offers simple adjustments that can enhance your dining pleasure.


💐Decorate your surroundings.

The secret ingredient to your signature lasagna can be how you set the table. When researchers set up two dining areas–one with Italian posters and checkered tablecloths, and one with white tablecloths and plain walls–patrons in the decorated setting judged the pasta dishes to be more authentically Italian than those in the neutral setting.

🍫Cue sweetness with shape.

Chocolate maker Cadbury faced complaints when it changed the shape of its Dairy Milk bar from rectangles to rounds in 2013–not because of the look, but because the new treats were too sweet. But the company hadn’t altered the recipe; consumers just thought it had, because we perceive food presented in round shapes (whether a candy bar, beetroot jelly or chocolate shavings on a latte) to be sweeter than angular shapes.

☕️Pop the lid off your coffee.

In order to fully experience your food–including a jolt of java–you need to smell as well as taste it. The lid on a to-go cup of coffee puts a barrier between that invigorating fresh-ground scent and the part of your brain that forms expectations of what you’re about to enjoy. Without what’s called ortho-nasal information, your coffee may taste the same way it does when you have a cold–weak.

👂Listen.

Spence calls sound “the forgotten flavor sense” and says it is essential to a pleasurable dining experience. He found that, for instance, enhancing the sound of a potato-chip crunch impacted its perceived freshness. Some suggestions to add crunch in Gastrophysics: sprinkle croutons or toasted seeds over a salad just before serving. (Those who hate the sound of others’ chewing, beware.)



University of Oxford psychology professor Charles Spence

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"What we taste in the glass ~ what we taste on the plate, it's all kind of an illusion created by what's going on in our brain, and what's going on around us" said Spence.


His hope is that the trickle-down from the best restaurants in the world, will ultimately lead to more appetizing meals in, for example, nursing homes", Spence said.

Spence offers simple adjustments that can enhance our dining pleasure.

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Spence, speaking at Ted Talks. (Video/TedTlk)

In the US, food marketers have long sought to make that sensory-link using memory-jogging pictures and slogans, presumably to tap into consumers’ apparent willingness to pay more for an aura of authenticity.

Read more, or to purchase the book, click  HERE.

Watch more videos of Spence HERE: 


Ran DeBord ~ All Access Sporting News  (AASNSports)


Sources for this article include:

 TimeMagazine, Eculent-Kemah/Chef David Skinner, CleverlyStone/Founder Houston Restaurant Week, Theguardian, TedTalks, Wikipedia, Twitter, AASNSports

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