Heston Blumenthal On Multisensory Experiences

by Thomas Brett

The self-taught English chef Heston Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck restaurant and famous for pushing the bounds of cookery, is interested in how sensory context affects our experience of food.  In a recorded statement of his philosophy available for listening (as an MP3 file) on his website, Blumenthal notes that even sound can play an important role in our perception of food.  His first example is an experiment he did with his staff, where they wore headphones hooked up to a microphone that amplified the crunch of potato chips as they ate them (!).  It turns out that the amplified chips were perceived as actually being crisper.  His second example of sound’s role in affecting our perception of food is this: Can sound can be used to trigger our memories while we eat?  To explore this question, Blumenthal fed his dining patrons oysters while playing them (via an iPod hidden in a real seashell) “sounds of the sea, punctuated with the occasional squawk of a seagull.”  Blumenthal found that sound–especially ocean sounds that trigger powerful memories for some people–had a tremendous effect on how the food tasted for diners; in fact, some diners were so moved by the experience that they broke down in tears.  The experiment confirmed for Blumenthal the power of using the senses as a tool for tapping into the mysterious regions of memory.  And of course, a new dish was born: Sound Of The Sea.

You can listen to Heston Blumenthal tell the stories here.

And that sea and swawking seagull soundscape that diners hear as they eat can be heard here.