Science suggests sound, color and other sensory cues influence the way we perceive taste. A number of researchers, chefs, and communication professionals are involved in creating events for the general public that will have a sensory impact: it's something we've already known thanks to Roca Brothers' El Somni culinary opera, or the Ultraviolet restaurant in Shanghai by chef Paul Pairet.
Condiment Junkie is a sonic branding and experiential sound design company now experimenting with this fascinating discipline. Condiment Junkie founders, Scott King and Russ Jones use the term Sensory Architecture to explain their approach. They design every aspect of the surrounding environment - sounds, smells, colors, textures, shapes - and understand how they interact wanting to specifically enhance something - be it taste, enjoyment or immersion. Sensory Architecture takes the science of the senses, cross-modal neuroscience, and applies it to anything from taste to rooms, bars and restaurants, to packaging, glassware, or even digital.
Condiment Junkie's food experiments began at The Fat Duck restaurant by chef Heston Blumenthal. They worked on the chef’s Sounds of the Sea signature dish (in the picture at the top of the page) which comes in a wooden box that looks like it contains sand and shells. It turns out to be tapioca, fried breadcrumbs, crushed fried baby eels, cod liver oil and langoustine oil with abalone, razor clams, shrimps, oysters and three kinds of edible seaweed. Looking for ways to give higher impact to the tasting experience, they worked on the one single sense that was incomplete: the auditory aspect. After trying a soundtrack of the sea, they realized it conjures up all those memories of being by the sea and eating the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted. The collaboration between the two continued with a second sonar intervention, a cinematic trick for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party last spring.
As Jones commented, “We tend to believe it's just about what happens in the mouth and the olfactory elements - but it's more complex. To say one is more critical than the other is hard; in different situations some senses may be more dominant over others. In the south of France on holiday, it may be the scenery making your mussels taste amazing. Having a hot dog in New York, it may be the sonic atmosphere that makes you believe it's the best you've ever had.”
For a project recently commissioned by Diageo, Condiment Junkie showed how a combination of visuals, sound and smells can change and enhance the taste of one whiskey, the Singleton single malt whiskey. The event came after a series of experiments that took place in the laboratory of Professor Charles Spence, the head of the Cross modal Research Laboratory at Oxford University. By creating different themed rooms, the different tastes could be accentuated: a grassy room with the smell of turf and the sound of birds singing brings out the green, grassy notes of the whiskey, to sweeter tastes being enhanced in a curved, rounded room with higher frequency sounds and bells ringing.
At the moment, the two are working on a project commissioned by Tanqueray 10 to be released in January. Bringing life to new concepts happens through an articulated analysis: “We first go through a process to define the brief, looking at our research and even conducting new studies, and take into account the other sensory elements - for instance the flavor profile and characteristics of a drink, if that's the client - we cross reference the research and set the brief. Then we know what we design will work. From that point on it's a matter of creativity, artistry, and testing”. Asked how he relates to food on a personal level, Russ Jones reveals to be a true glutton. “Great food is the most important thing to me - on a par with music. My favorite memories are meals. And the best meals in my life haven't necessarily been at the best Michelin starred restaurants in the world, although, I've been to quite a few. They were when the time, the people, the setting, the atmosphere were all perfect; and that made the meal perfect, and the memory so strong”.