WINGMAN TO MICHELIN STAR CHEFS

The Multi-sensory approach: Michelin Star Wingmen

Having spent social time recently with some of the world’s best chefs, what’s equally fascinating alongside their pioneering approaches, are the support team in the shadows helping them co-create culinary genius. The observation is that behind every world-class chef is a Wingman/woman.

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Heston Blumenthal has Otto Romer, Head of Development at the Fat Duck Group. Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana has Enrico Vignoli. Ferran Adrià of once the best restaurant in the world, possibly ever, El Bulli had his brother Albert. In a recent experience we had, (best summarised by this article in the Telegraph), Wingman had spend quality time in the kitchen at the best restaurant in London at the moment: Scully. The restaurant is the first solo venture of Rameal Scully who was Wingman to Yotam Ottolenghi at Nopi. Wingman to Scully is Ramiro Gasparotto. Ramiro works behind the scenes to ensure that Scully “has to only think of the important things” and not get side tracked by unimportant tasks.They both agreed that “taste comes first” in all that they do. Ramiro helps take Scully’s ideas and provides the R&D kitchen to turn into reality.

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All discussions with the chef’s Wingmen/women have also centred around taking multi-sensory approach to creating the world’s best food experiences. Central to the latest and greatest in thinking over the years has been the work of experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence at the University of Oxford. He is the head of the Crossmodal Research Group which specializes in the research about the integration of information across different sensory modalities. Spence has worked closely in the past with Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adrià and more recently talented chef Jozef Youssef at Kitchen Theory. Here are 18 of the examples of Spence’s findings, mainly from his book Gastrophysics: the New Science of Eating. It matches the discussions at Wingman about the move at the moment in many areas (art, wine, product design for example) to being more open to interconnectedness. This has come up in many of the chats with top chefs: that there are so many influences on the taste and experience of food we are still only just touching the surface in understanding the influences.

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In order to maximise the experience economy all are thinking about interconnectedness and multisensory. The ultimate tastes are about combining the best food with the right environment in order to deliver the best experience- here are some of the considerations on the food experience demonstrating just how all the senses make a difference and just how interconnected influences are. Gastronomy is a sensual experience, in food, the ‘everything else’ around the taste matters:   

1) We are influenced by the pricing and branding of food

2) What is in the mind of the taster is as important as what is in the mouth

3) Genetics: For something like coriander, a person’s genetics means some people can smell a ‘urine-like’ substance hence they are put off by coriander

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4) Design of the packaging- e.g. coffee is designed to maximise the smell when opened as it’s one of the most universally liked smells and sets up the user for their coffee. Jagged/ square designs of a jar signify bitter and hard vs round which signifies creamy and velvety.

5) Aroma: you should never over pour wine for example as you want the aroma in the glass. It also signifies your partner or staff are being attentive to you by monitoring when you need topping up. Dark chocolate is designed to be more angular so that when it breaks it feels sharp vs milk chocolate which is often designed to be rounded .

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6) Whether you have been ‘digital foraging’ i.e. enjoying ‘food porn’ on Instagram. Note the most searched for category on the internet is porn… next…. is food  

7) Shape symbolism: Dark chocolate feels more angular as it breaks, milk chocolate feels creamier. Shape symbolism. Cadbury’s moved from angular to round and people thought the chocolate was milkier. The way you put chocolate on a latte guides the expectation of the latte- a star on top meant people thought the coffee was more bitter

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8) Plate colour e.g. strawberry dessert considered more sweet on a white plate vs a dark plate and type of tableware e.g. food served in a bowl is considered to be healthier

9) Colour of a cup: hot chocolate tastes more chocolaty from an orange plastic cup vs a white plastic cup


10) How food is presented: e.g. ‘protein in motion’ melted cheese slowed down impacts perception of taste; orange juice looks more appealing when poured vs presented in a static glass 

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11) Sound- e.g. the crunchiness sound of crisps. We don’t have receptors in our teeth so we are sensing through noise e.g. crunch, crackly, crispy. The sonic sound of crunch is linked to fat which evolution has told us is rewarding. The crunch of an iceberg lettuce adds to the sensory experience of a burger

12) The ‘Sonic seasoning’- sound and music can have a large impact on taste and experience. Soundscapes that personalise e.g. eating with headphones on at work can have profound effects on taste. Listening to the right music at the same time as eating. Thai music with Thai food. Verdi with Italian. US road trip with BBQ / that’s why travelling is so much fun as it’s a proper immersion and the food tastes better.

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13) Krug Champagne House designed a shell to enable you to listen to the bubbles. Bubbles also are a visual representation (and therefore adding to the perception) of fun, energy, rising, sociability

14) Sensitivity of your taste buds: your taste buds and sense of smell decline with age: its why older people need stronger cheese and wine etc

15) The importance of mouthfeel (aka Oral somatosensory properties) of the food
What we feel in the mouth affects the mental taste. Creamy oily and buttery is associated with pleasure and desire. As a spoon hits the roof of the mouth first- cold or warm spoon, soft edged vs harsh spoon can impact taste. Texture of the spoon in the hand has effect on the taste in the mouth. China vs metal, old vs new, all can affect the perception of the taste.

16) The weight of the glass in a bottle of wine makes it feel more expensive and better quality. The weight of a spoon in the hand has a big effect on the experience of the food

17) Eating with hands. Think how satisfying holding crunchy naan bread in the hand is... to mop up curry. Or eating a burger with the hand vs a knife and fork? Sushi with chopsticks makes it feel more elegant and prepared. Pizza takeaway box adds value to the pizza experience. Fish and chips in newspaper.

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18) Primacy and recency effects. You tend to remember most the start and end of a meal. Which is why a chef will often surprise you with an Amuse Bouche- to create their mark with you. A restaurateur should try to leave the customer with a surprise at the end. Your perception of taste can be remembered through the first and last course or even mouthfuls…

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