26 January 2017
On January 26th, E.A.T. popped up in Roanoke, VA at the Aurora Studio Center for an evening of culinary exploration into the world of multi-sensory dining. Our gustatory guinea pigs came with open minds and appetites to take part in E.A.T.’s first multi-sensory case study.
At Spectrum, E.A.T.’s goal was to tap into our guests’ abilities to experience synesthesia, or the blurring of the senses. By incorporating a multi-sensory approach to his menu, Chef Brandon Bundy (Executive Chef, Juleps, Richmond, VA) attempted to take E.A.T.’s guests on a guided tour of the five tastes – bitter, salty, sour, umami, and sweet – while also incorporating the full spectrum of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste.
As each guest made their way to the table, they found waiting for them at their seat a “sensory toolkit” containing different swaths of materials designed to trigger different taste sensations when used in conjunction with the meal. This idea was borrowed from Kitchen Theory, a group of culinary scientists who regularly explore the implications of a multi-sensory approach to food and dining. Where Kitchen Theory used what they called “Marinetti Cubes,” named after the father of futurism, Filippo Marinetti, E.A.T. chose to offer our guests a packet of materials that they might take with them and experiment with again around their own tables and in their own homes.
To share with you E.A.T.’s experiment, below you will find our Materials List and Experimental Procedure for this night of culinary adventure and discovery.
EXPERIMENTAL MATERIALS LIST:
- Group of excited individuals interested in food, exploration, and the support of worthy causes (i.e. the eradication of food deserts)
- Badass Chef with a penchant for creating menus that tell an edible and informative story through their conceptual creative framework
- Red wine glasses, to be filled with courses dictating earthy, hearty, red meatier tones
- White wine glasses, to be filled alongside certain fruits, select white meats, seafood, and soft vegetables
- Water glasses, as “operation hydration” is crucial when settling in for a two to three hour culinary adventure
- Opening cocktail, slightly bitter and bubbly to awaken the palate for what lays ahead
- Positive/Jovial attitude and an open mind, so that the full effect of our sensory exploration might be had and enjoyed by all in attendance
- Speaker, to be used with a playlist of “sonic seasonings” to accompany the courses
- Dry Ice, for some “aroma effects”
- Cast iron pot with water and oyster brine
- Sensory Toolkit, to be used as source of textural stimulation triggering different flavor-perception throughout the meal [Contents: Sandpaper cut into a 2x3” rectangle, Velvet cut into a 2x3” rectangle, Velcro (both sides) cut into 2x2” squares, Laminated card]
Gather an excited group of individuals interested in various permutations of the “eating experience,” and welcome them to your multi-sensory dining experiment, reminding them that no less than 10% of gross proceeds go directly into a restricted non-profit fund for the eradication of food deserts. Thank them kindly.
Using the portable speaker, begin playing ocean sounds in an effort to transport them to a more “coastal” state of mind.
As the talented Chef (in this case Brandon Bundy, Executive Chef, Juleps, Richmond, VA) finishes plating a Fresh Tidewater Raw Oyster with Red Beet, Fish Sauce, and Yuzu Pearls, carefully drop a hunk of dry ice into the cast iron pot containing water and oyster brine, creating an ocean vapor that wafts down the table while guests enjoy the oyster amid the sounds of wave and wind. Observe reactions of guests as visibly cool “ocean” air fogs their plates.
After clearing the oyster amuse, bring out the first full course of the evening, BITTER. As the chicory salad with grapefruit, persimmon, beet, and goat cheese makes its way to the table, be careful not to knock the whiskey glass that is entrapping the smoke over the goat cheese cannelle. Remind guests to try a nip of the goat cheese while running their fingers over the sandpaper or velvet respectively. Prompt them with questions. Does the sandpaper make the goat cheese seem sharp, or bright? Does the velvet highlight the quick infusion of smoke into the cheese as it coats their palate?
As guests continue to explore synaesthetic qualities of the meal, let them know individually a bit of the research you’ve been reading about how decibel level affects our ability to taste sweet and salty. Encourage a few moments of quieter, more conscious eating as the second course, SALTY, is brought to the table. Place the “melon wrapped in country ham” (which is actually a champagne flute rimmed with pop rocks, containing ham consommé with honeydew and cantaloupe “melon pearls”) before them and step back to observe the results.
Now that the guests have experienced smoke-cheese, and melon and ham “champagne,” they should be prepared for any interpretation the chef throws at them that manipulates the physical state of the menu items. While you adjust the music playlist to a more Peruvian, and celebratory tone, bring them SOUR, a Shrimp Ceviche with avocado, tomato, ginger and an “orange air.” The small, nearly invisible bubbles giving structure to the orange emulsion on their plates should come as no surprise at this point.
Returning to a more standard plating and preparation, bring out UMAMI, a perfectly medium rare Lamb Chop with barley, fava beans, mushroom, and carrot. Why fix what ain’t broke? Invite guests to notice that the earthy, tannic qualities of the Petite Syrah wine pairing fade into fruitier, sweeter elements when juxtaposed against the earthiness of the dish found in the mushrooms and root vegetables.
Introduce the chef to the applause and cheers of the diners. Ask him to explain his culinary philosophy, which includes a commitment to locally sourced ingredients, playfulness on the plate, and an honest sense of comfort to be imparted to anyone sharing his meal.
Before kicking off SWEET, the meal’s finale, inform the guests that you have prepared a sonic experiment to bring the evening to a close. Tell them that the first two and a half minutes of the song they are about to hear is jarring, glitch-y, and hard, but to hold out hope because after this it opens into a melodic and harmonious conclusion. Instruct them to focus on the way their palate reacts to the different sections of the song. How their bodies tense or release accordingly as well. Ready… set… dessert.
Now that the experiment has concluded, thank everyone for attending this first event in Roanoke, VA. Encourage them to come back and visit Aurora Studio Center again soon, and check in to see what events, classes, and exhibits they have upcoming. Shake a few hands, give a few hugs, and pass out a few business cards before waving goodbye and starting to clean.
Fondly. For days to come.
The results of our experiment were various. First, we had a great time bringing people together around the table to share a meal. Many in attendance left with new acquaintances and friends, all of us sharing an interest in food as common ground.
Second, we were able to introduce many in Roanoke’s community to an important cultural hub, the Aurora Studio Center. Several of our guests noted that they look forward to returning soon to this artistic, community hot spot.
Third, we began to learn and explore the many facets of sensory experience through the framework of a meal. Hopefully, many of the guests left Spectrum with a newly opened mind to the possibilities of the “eaten-experience,” and will be considering sounds, textures, and aromas in the next meals they create.
Finally, we were able to support a worthy cause, raising $250.00 to go directly into E.A.T. Foundation’s restricted fund to be used in the accomplishment of our mission: the eradication of food deserts, making healthy food options accessible to all. Thank you again to all that came along with us on this experimental journey.
E.A.T. cannot wait to get back to Roanoke very soon (March 13th), and share again in an unforgettable experience around the table.
To see what Chef Bundy is up to, and pay him a visit, stop by Juleps! And follow them on Instagram (@julepsinrva) and Twitter (@JulepsRVA). No doubt, Chef Bundy and the rest of the Julep’s crew would be happy to see you, and show you why Julep’s is one of the most elegant representations of Southern cuisine you will find in Virginia.
Remember to keep up with E.A.T. and our continued culinary explorations! Our Upcoming Events page is a great place to look for a chance to join us on one of our dining adventures — Come be a part of our shared narrative!