As a quick introduction, this is now I feel the direction eating and cooking should take in order to heal many of the diet related illnesses we face today
Ever since culinary school, I have had a fascination with taste and I feel that was the main missing element in my culinary education. We were taught how to cook but not how to taste. We saw the chef cook a meal and had to replicate it at a high level to graduate. It was an extremely efficient method of teaching because it takes out the uncertainty associated with reading a cook book and filling in the blanks. Being in a school with French chefs that know their craft obviously the food tastes and looks good, but why? Cooking for me is the easiest part of the process. There are only a handful of techniques and timings that get applied to a variety of ingredients to produce a meal that the majority of the population will find appealing. The hard part is thinking about how the ingredients combine together in order to develop that particular multi-sensory experience that is eating. That is the magic of cooking that ensures that 100 established chefs will cook the same dish differently. I can almost say that knowledge of this “magic” practiced over many years is what makes a chef noteworthy.
As a creative person, I feel it is more important to understand the process of how things work so you can create your own spin. There is nothing wrong with recreating and drawing inspiration from other creatives, but at the end of the day it is not your original idea. I feel this way about all things in life. Draw inspiration and copy if need be in the beginning to get your feet wet, but when you are ready to blossom and publish your own work, trust the instincts you have developed. You need to trust your struggle as Zain Asher put it.
A few days ago I went to this bookstore called Kinokunya in Dubai. Naturally I went straight to the cooking section to see what books were available that I was not familiar with. I browsed through Heston, Relae, Manresa, Coi, Adria, TFL, Boulud, and many others. As I was browsing, I realized that I was more interested in the stories as to why they assembled certain dishes and not the finished product. The people I look up to are those who took that leap of faith. In all the books, the ingredients for the most part are the same. Flour, tomatoes, peppers, fruits, etc coupled with searing, sous vide, blanching, baking, etc. However the products could not be any more different. These guys and ladies went deep within to understand their cognitive processes in an effort to push the boundaries and redefine what we call food. To draw an art parallel, with the same paint, you can create Monet, finger paint, or paint your house. Same raw material with different application gives a new result.
As I browsed, I started to remember my dislike of cookbooks because they showcase finished products. They are beautiful to look at and I admire them the way I do Monet but it is not mine. This then took me to the more hidden food writing section that had the dense food related literature. This is where you find Harold McGee, Michael Pollan, Herve This and Karen Page to mention a few. I stumbled upon this book called Taste by Barb Stucky who works at Matson. They develop foods for fast food chains, chain restaurants, snack companies and other places that need to ensure their food tastes good to a wide audience be it frozen or fresh. I am still in the beginning of the book, but I just watched this video by the same lady that made me realize that this may be the future of the food industry. I thought I should document this train of thought while it is still fresh.
We need to actively think about all the sensory elements that make up food as a whole in order to increase it’s pleasure. Food is one of the only voluntary things we must do to survive. It is also the only thing that goes in and out of our body for processing. It’s non negotiable. I feel it is therefore necessary to understand how food works. Let me now discuss what I feel is the future of cooking and eating.
Sensory food for me would entail engineering each of the 5 senses with the 5 tastes in order to bring about a truly delicious and nourishing meal. Knowledge of this can then be melded with dietary restrictions to provide ways of eating while curating your experience. I have to pay homage to Homaro Cantu for the info that sparked this idea in me. Take the miracle berry (Agbayun) for example. When you eat it, you are able to taste food with a higher intensity. This means I can make the same meal with 1/3 of the salt and sugar I use normally and it will taste as if I used all the salt and sugar. Imagine what this means for people with diabetes and high blood pressure worldwide. Another example would be using sound and smell to give the stomach and illusion of fullness. People that cook notice this. After a day of cooking you do not really feel hungry. The smell and sounds of the kitchen coupled with some tasting satisfy your hunger. Imagine what this means for dieting. It wont be about calories but triggering the right senses to “feel” full. There is also the new wave of science and cooking which means the food will not only smell, sound and feel good, bit it will also look and taste like a work of art.
All this may sound foreign, but some of it is already in practice. Take going to McDonalds or your favorite fast food chain for example. You see the logo as you approach and you salivate thinking about what you will order. Most times you can smell the food from outside the door as well. Walking in, you hear sizzling and smell the food with more intensity. After getting your food, you feel the texture in your hands and get to taste and smell it more intensely as you chew. Now you activate your taste and experience salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami in a balance that satisfies you. After that you also drink something that pairs with the food and makes the experience stronger. In that example all 5 senses and tastes were engaged. What I am proposing is consolidating that scientifically into an experience that is not fast food. Real ingredients, cooked with the best knowledge, presented in the best way while engaging all the senses.
Here is the video if you want to watch it. It is 1 hour long.