Any chef will tell you that presentation is half the battle of creating a perfectly appealing dish, and although mass consumers may not understand why this is, recent research has shown that they’d likely agree when the visual appearance of a meal was put to the test. In professional restaurants, chefs are made to wipe down drips of food that fall onto dishware, arrange colors appealingly, and position food in a way that’s easy to eat as well as easy on the eyes. An experiment designed by just such a chef suggests that restaurant goers will pay more if it looks nice, pay more money for the food, and probably even say that it tastes better.
The Psychological Point of View
Although this study centers on culinary arts, many psychologists have long wondered whether the way that a dish looks changes the overall taste sensation that somebody experiences while eating. Obviously the look doesn’t change the physical makeup of the food in any way, but it might enhance the experience a diner has and in that way make the meal seem as though it tastes better. To further investigate this theory, researches designed a salad to look like a famous painting and served it to diners to see what the reaction was. The meal was modeled after Painting Number 201 by Kandinsky, and the overall opinion on it was that the dish tasted better and those eating the salad were willing to spend more.
Eating With Your Eyes
The concept was focused on by Charles Michel, a French-Columbian chef who was educated in French style cuisine. He was inspired by painting number 201 while visiting New York City and decided to incorporate it into food because it reminded him of the colors in a salad. CBC News quotes Chef Michel in saying: “I realized how beautiful the colors and the movements and the lines were and kind of immediately, I thought this could be a salad. These beautiful colors could be a salad,”
He also explained that the written words below the painting at the gallery that described it said that the color represented the exertion of influence on the soul, and this inspired him to do Kandinsky themed dishes.
Discovering Through Experimentation
Chef Michel’s salads had many sauces including squid ink, beetroot puree, lemongrass crème, and others. It also contained sliced portobello mushrooms, broccoli sprouts, both cooked and raw, endives, colored bell peppers, beets, olive oil, and carrot puree, among other items in this 30 ingredient dish. The salads were designed in three ways during an event, one that was a regularly plated salad after all ingredients had been tossed together, one to resemble painting number 201, and the last very neat and organized but not resembling the Kandinsky. A Professor from Oxford University, named Charles Spence happened to be in attendance at the event and couldn’t help but notice the experiment in progress. Out of this experiment, others were born, and in depth research finally began on the subject of aesthetics and food. A study including 60 volunteers between the ages of eighteen and fifty-eight each had one salad and rated it before tasting. The results proved that the more visually appealing and artistic salad was more popular by 18%. That 18% also have higher ratings for taste, and were willing to pay extra.
The brilliance of the experiment influenced others to try this trick, and Jozef Youssef, another chef and food scientist who had participated in the original experiment suddenly found himself creating an entire menu based on this artsy concept. The Independent explains: “Inspired by the results, he and staff from publishing house BioMed Central created a range of other dishes inspired by famous works from artists including Picasso, Magritte and Rothko.”
Using famous paintings as a resource for delicious inspirations might not catch on in every kitchen, but this doesn’t stop chefs from making some remarkably beautiful dishes. Restaurants around the world prove the theory that diners prefer pretty food to plain food every day, but actually changing the way that a taste is perceived may just be a new concept that professional chefs should keep in mind.
Adding Flare To Your Own Food
It doesn’t take a professional chef or private cook to create a masterpiece on a plate. Although the experiment was based on Kandinsky’s painting, the research suggests that home cooks can bring out the appetites of friends and families by working on presentation as well, whether they choose to focus on a piece of art or not. The trick is in the detail, and be organizing food on a plate rather than just sticking everything in separate corners you’re more likely to find yourself wanting to dig in; another way to make a dish more appealing is to add color. The Washington Post suggests: “Green is good: chopped parsley, sliced chives, minced scallions, zested lime and tiny mint or basil leaves. A little something uncooked can be just the thing to add zest, bite and zing.”
Don’t be afraid to use sauces, but don’t just pour it onto everything, give it a purpose, a shape, and a color that works well with the rest of the items on the plate. Chef Michel used sauces creatively throughout the Kandinsky salad to give vibrancy as well as flavor to the dish.
Other Ways To Enhance Flavors
Other scientific studies have been completed on what makes food appealing to the human tongue, and while the appearance wasn’t as obvious, your sense of smell should be something you’re aware of aiding in tasting your food. When you’re sick or your nose is blocked due to allergies you might find yourself losing your appetite, or disliking dishes that you normally love. This is because when your nose isn’t working, your taste buds aren’t getting the full experience that they’re used to. Live Science says: “That’s because as you chew, you’re forcing air through your nasal passages, carrying the smell of the food along with it. Without that interplay of taste and smell, you wouldn’t be able to grasp complex flavors.”
Other influencers on taste might come from your thoughts, as many people form an opinion on a dish, and can’t enjoy it once they consider it to be something distasteful, even if they’ve never tried it before.