Sensory trickery in the kitchen

Our journalist Ella Rhodes reports from an unusual synaesthetic event.

Bringing the synaesthesic experience to the dinner table is no mean feat, but that is what modernist culinary creatives Kitchen Theory have aimed to do with their series of seven-course meals which set out to enhance and fool the senses. Synaesthesia, a sensory disorder which can cause sound to have colour and words to have flavours, is mind-boggling to those of us who don’t have it – but can such an experience really be recreated through food?

The setting for chef Jozef Youssef’s experimental meal is the Food Incubator, Maida Hill Place, London, a space designed for food entrepreneurs who want to try out their ideas. Guests are seated at a long table and given menus in enticing black envelopes but told not to look at them until after the second course – enhancing the air of mystery around this unique dining experience.

Without giving too much of the menu’s content away, each course aimed to illustrate some of our pre-conceived ideas about food, taste, texture and even sounds we hear while eating. Among other things the courses illustrate our relationship with colour and taste, the effect of speech sounds on our perception of food shape and the potential relationship between tactile sensations and food textures and tastes. Every course was given an intriguing name such as Night Owl’s Eastbourne Grotto or Believe Nothing of What you Hear – each one became a sensory act in its own right.

Each course was accompanied by atomisers, sounds, even a cube covered with different textures which could be played with while eating to examine the effect on taste. Not only were the flavour combinations and sensory trickery fascinating, diners were also treated to some education on the topic of synaesthesia with the help of Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University’s Cross Modal Department, who has helped to design the menu.

Spence, along with Sean Day, President of American Synaesthesia Association, and Richard E. Cytowic, MD MFA, Neurologist and author of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, have helped Youssef combine some of the research into this neurological phenomenon into his menu. Youssef has worked at Helene Darroze at the Connaught, The Dorchester Hotel and the Fat Duck, and is the author of  ‘Molecular Gastronomy at Home.’

The events are being held Thursday to Saturday every fortnight from now through to June 2015 at Food Incubator Maida Hill Place.

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