Amazing Innovations in Multisensory Culinary Experiences
Kate Mooney |
September 4, 2018
Fruit-flavored fireworks, disco smoke, and other food illusions that tantalize much more than just the taste buds
Most of us don’t give much thought to the presentation of our food, or the ambience in which we consume it. Generally, we’re too focused on figuring out what, when, and how to feed ourselves to bother with curating a mood around any given meal.
But around the world, chefs and designers are paying closer attention to how we engage with their culinary creations. By stimulating all five senses, fostering an emotional connection, incorporating an element of surprise, and even engaging in full-on theatrics, the innovators of multisensory dining are pioneering new ways to tickle the taste buds while also giving diners many other kinds of thrills.
Tricks and Treats
photo courtesy of Bompas & Parr
“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, humans are going to be very stimulated by food,” explains Sam Bompas, co-founder of Bompas&Parr, a London-based design studio that devises outlandish multisensory culinary experiences for clients around the world, from corporations to nonprofits.
“[Food] is a very good vehicle for gaining and sustaining people’s attention, surprising and delighting them, getting them to ask questions, to elevate people’s consciousness and inspire [them],” he says.
Bompas co-founded the company in 2008 with his grade-school pal Harry Parr, after the two failed to get an artisanal jelly company off the ground. They quickly learned that curating culinary-infused spectacles was more their bread and butter, a way to indulge their knack for “realizing things with food that hadn’t been done before,” and to “cross-pollinate different disciplines,” as Bompas explains.
Sam Bompas and Harry Parr (photo by Charlie Surbey)
While neither is a chef (their backgrounds are in marketing and engineering), they employ a 20-person team of cooks, designers, and producers to carry out concepts such as Alcoholic Architecture, a pop-up bar with a breathable gin-and-tonic cloud, or a New Year’s Eve multisensory firework display, in which the colors of the fireworks matched with fruit-flavored smoke.
But it’s not all shock and awe for its own sake: Bompas says they use these experiences to educate the public on food issues. The two also co-founded the British Museum of Food and curated the current exhibition Scoop, an ice cream–themed pop-up full of fun sensory tricks like glow-in-the-dark ice cream and a simulation of “ice cream weather,” which also delves into the frozen treat’s darker history.
Modern culture has taught us to associate “emotional eating” with depressive bingeing, but for Hong Kong–based chef Andrea Oschetti, an emotional hook is the most important ingredient in any dish.
“There have been studies about which [musical] keys elicit which emotions — major, minor, etc. Food can be the same,” he explains. “It can elicit emotions, either visually or taste.” For example, “comfort food reconnects us to a moment when life was easier and we were happier.”
Oschetti hosts private dinners in his loft, where he prepares multi-course Italian meals paired with film, art, and musical performance to help tap into a certain culinary pathos.
photo courtesy of Andrea Oschetti
One past dinner was structured around a viewing of Romeo and Juliet, with the meal served in courses alongside specific scenes, such as a dish titled First Kiss, made up of fresh oyster and gorgonzola, during the scene when Romeo first kisses Juliet. Another meal was served during a concert by violinist Erica Ye Beyeol Lee, and “emotional courses” with titles like “The tuna of my memory, with Oriental escapism” accompanied each song.
About his private kitchen, Oschetti says, “The main goal is [for diners] to have experiences that are transformative and life-affirming.” But he insists that the emotional imprint is the key to those experiences. “People often don’t remember what they ate last week,” he explains. With a little heart, Oschetti hopes to change that.
Theatrics, to Taste
Jesse Dunford Wood isn’t just the head chef and owner of London café Parlour Kensal; he’s also a performer and storyteller who’s been known to pop open champagne for guests using a three-foot machete.
At Parlour, Wood personally tends to diners at the Chef’s Table, preparing and serving multi-course meals that he describes as an “assault of the senses” with “unexpected happenings, dramatic beginnings middles and ends, fireworks, blow torches, costume changes, and jokes.”
photo courtesy of Jesse Dunford Wood
He doesn’t want to get much more specific than that because the fun is in the surprise, but he does promise “long-winded” stories about each dish, a 15-minute dessert presentation with disco-smoke and music, and a “miracle pill” that turns sour things sweet.
Wood isn’t just a ham; his showmanship is in service of “commensality,” as he calls it. He sees his role as a “guide in the shared food experience,” the steward of a communal meal that guests won’t soon forget.
Social Media Sweet Spot
photo courtesy of the Food Illusionist
Three years ago, London-based chef Ben Churchill found himself wondering if he could make desserts that look like other things. His first attempt was a chocolate dessert made to look like a lemon, and when it worked, he realized he was on to something. He put a video of his delectable trickery on social media, dubbed himself the Food Illusionist, and quickly amassed a robust following of folks who tune in to marvel at his tricky treats. In 2017, he published his first cookbook, Food Illusions: Vol. 1.
Churchill’s current obsession is food that appears repulsive but tastes delicious. Some of his big hits: an olive oil sponge cake with mint crumb top that looks like a dish sponge, and a vanilla pannacotta with chocolate and meringue powder that takes on the form of an ashtray. “It’s all about seeing how far you can push perceptions and challenge people with food,” he explains.
photo courtesy of the Food Illusionist
To discover an array of deceptive dining experiences, click here.