Molecular Cuisine: Considering the Chemical Senses in Culinary Practice
Pt. 4 – “Sensorium” is the new “restaurant”
Considering the function of the chemical senses and their interaction in flavor perception is key to the development of molecular cuisine. Of course, the chemical senses cannot be considered in complete isolation. Though gustation and olfaction are the most critical senses in flavor perception, all the sensory modalities make some contribution. To reiterate, dining is a multimodal sensory experience. The next big step in molecular cuisine will be to take control of every sensory input the diner could experience, to design every influence acting on their perception of a meal.
Towards this end, the Oxford Crossmodal Research Laboratory conducted an experiment titled, “Assessing the influence of the multisensory environment on the whisky drinking experience.” The experiment took place in Soho, London, at a specially designed space called The Singleton Sensorium. (“Singleton” because the test stimulus was Singleton whisky.) The experiment’s three conditions took the form of three rooms in the Sensorium. Each room’s multisensory properties were meant to bring out a specific attribute of the Singleton, including “grassy,” “sweet,” and “woody.” The “grassy” room looked, smelled, and sounded like a summer meadow. The “sweet” room was cast in shades of red with high pitched tones as a soundscape. Previous studies had suggested that these sensory inputs heighten peoples’ perceptions of sweetness. The “woody” room had wooden décor and walls, with the sounds of fireplaces, creaking timbers, and a double bass in the background. Statistical analysis was conducted on participants’ ratings of the whisky’s attributes throughout the Sensorium. It was found that each space significantly enhanced the taste quality it was designed to, and in fact, participants’ ratings changed by about 10% to 20% depending on the room they were in (Velasco, 2013).
Multisensory experiences like the Singleton Sensorium are the future of molecular cuisine. This multisensory approach, compounded with the developing techniques specifically targeting the chemical senses, will bring the dining experience to new heights. Soon, dishes prepared with vaporizers, rotary evaporators, precise fermentation techniques, and meticulous ingredient pairing will be eaten in restaurants designed solely around their flavors. Culinary technique will advance dramatically as more chefs reach deeper understanding of their tools and ingredients. Tasting menus will be ordered chronologically based not on how it’s always been done, but on what diners will intrinsically desire in the upcoming moment. Foods that have always been defined by one taste quality will suddenly be perceived as another. Menus will be designed consciously around the intricacies of different cultures and the flavor profiles of their cuisine. Diners’ expectations will be set up, dashed, and satisfied, all in the space of a moment. In short, as the culinary arts gain acknowledgement as a sensory science, eating will become significantly more exciting.