Dyslexic Chef meets Gastro-Psychologist

Norwich Science week was on this week and today we attended a lecture by Professor Charles Spence a world famous experimental psychologist. A fellow that has worked with Heston on multisensory food and drink experiences, along with some of the tops chefs from around the globe.

Because I’m dyslexic like handfuls of chefs everywhere, or as I like to call it alternative thinking with the ability to do whatever I bloody well please because after all 90% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic – although on the other hand 80% off young offenders are too.

Anyhow – – – since I’m dyslexic I’ll soon forget all the useful stuff he talked about, so thought it a good idea to strike while the irons hot.

Restaurants all over the world are using technology to enhance the tasting experience. It was a decade ago that the professor worked with Blumenthal on the sounds of the sea – The Fat Duck gastro taster menu starts with the taste of the sea, a fishy supper served on  glass over sand, with a conch shell sprouting with ear phones, offering you sounds of waves, gulls and the like – all to enhance your perceptions to make the dish taste the best it can.

That’s all very novel and makes for a once in a lifetime-ish food experience but

How can Psychology go mainstream – well interestingly enough and proven too, blue plates simply make you eat more – helpful when you want to encourage the elderly and the sick to nourish themselves more.

While red plates even though they make the food taste sweeter, also make you eat less.

Socially we’ll eat more too – the magic number is 7 – in a group of 7 or more we’ll eat over 20% more, while eating alone means we eat smaller portions.

I never found out why but black plates make Green Curry tastes better but mainly white plates make most food more appealing.

Other statistics prove that watching TV or other distractions while eating mean you eat more volume. Want to lose weight and eat less – – – eat alone, eat in silence and eat off a red plate.

Apparently, cutlery’s the next thing to change – Victorians had a different cutlery piece for different dishes, like fish, cherry’s, desserts, soups, jelly, corn, pastry etc etc – we tend to have 4 and that’s it. (ok, I’ve got more)

So, heavier cutlery helps you eat slower and is perceptually preferred. I mentioned red makes food taste sweeter – so manufacturers are reflecting on using coloured spoons to enhance sweetness in things like yogurts. But it doesn’t stop there black reflects bitter and so on.

Even Heston’s got a fur covered, lead weighted spoon for a dish – giving you smell, texture, weight and sensory pleasure too.

I have to admit I’m following “We want Plates’ on twitter, it’s just incredible what some chefs are using as plates – shopping trolleys, roof tiles, glass boxes, wellington boots!!! But of course, with no rhyme or reason. While chefs that are engaged in the Psychology are experimenting with i-pads – yes, serving meals on computers – but why not, you can have the image, the sounds and a flat surface, no good for tough steak but brilliant for something delicate.

Restaurants need to get on board too because studies proved that how you present your food can alter what people are prepared to pay. They did a study where one dish was scattered artistically around a plate and another was piled up – the artistic plate achieved a better selling price.

I was captivated from the talk, Psychology and gastronomy all in one hit – I love the mind and I love food. It’s always fascinated me  –

I’ve often used what’s in the mind as part of my cookery courses – basic stuff like when you first try a new flavour it may take up to 17 times to like it. We learn from our peers – so on one demo I gave to a group of mums and toddlers, when one of the mums said, ‘errr yuk my daughter doesn’t eat that stuff it looks like puke’ – but when I gave it to her she ate it, one because she didn’t hear her mum and two because everyone else was eating it.

A lot of food fears and hates are from childhood – think about all the things you hate and you’re sure to be able to trace it back or you’ll find out your parents hate it. After all, if the monkeys swinging in the trees, pick a banana, take one bite, pull a face and spit it out ‘baby monkeys’ is never going to touch a banana EVER.

So, not only can we overcome all food fears we can enhance our tasting experience by how, where and what we serve our food on and with what cutlery in the perfect environment and setting.

Dark rooms, imaging of union jacks, the smell of salt and the sound of rain as one Chinese chef recreates, to serve a fish and chip sample as part of a 20-taster menu for 1.5k – I’m there one day.

And on top of all of this MOOD effects our eating experience, one restaurant in Switzerland gets its customers to sit at empty tables with white table cloths and one single cup shaped cylinder with a cartoon cow on top right in the middle. People look around, wonder where the staff have disappeared to and wait for their food, until someone picks up the cow and it moos – soon the jolly spreads and everyone’s doing it and only once the moos are going and the laughter’s rampant does the first course enter the room – – – by which time the ice is broken and everyone’s soul is open.


Food, food, food who’d of thought we could make it taste even better just by tricking our mind.


By Zena Leech-Calton ©

Love Norwich Food