5 Future trends in dining out
Professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, Charles Spence, talks to us about the emerging and future trends in dining out: from fuzzy forks to crispy crickets.
How are chefs and companies planning to transform our dining experiences, and what can we learn from their cutting-edge insights to make memorable meals at home?
These are just some of the questions answered in Gastrophysics, where professor Charles Spence shows how our senses link up in the most extraordinary ways, and reveals the importance of all the "off-the-plate" elements of a meal: the weight of cutlery, the placing on the plate, the background music and much more.
Charles spoke to us about some of the biggest trends in dining out that we can expect in the future.
1. Funky cutlery
We’re going to see a radical change in cutlery and the way we get things from bowls and plates to our mouths. There will be more eating with your hands, as well as a lot more novel knife, fork and spoon designs. For example, we’ll see cutlery with more texture and materials that will caress your tongue in unusual ways. Top restaurants around the world are already experimenting with furry cutlery, wooden utensils and, err, prehistoric stone shards!
Image via fratelliguzzini
Plate designs have evolved hugely over the last 20-30 years, whereas cutlery hasn’t changed in the last century—it’s just the same stainless steel and silver fork, knife and spoon. In the future we’re going to look back on it and think, Wow what a boring way to eat. Why didn’t we think of anything else and experiment or play?
Which is a fancy term for… eating insects! We’re definitely going to see a change in the kinds of food we eat and where we source our protein. Numerous companies recognise that many of our staple ingredients may disappear in the coming decades and that we can’t keep depending on so much of our protein coming from animal meats, hence, insects are a natural alternative.
Image via viewthevibe
It hasn’t quite happened yet because we all think they’re so disgusting and yet again, so many chefs are already experimenting in the field. A number of top chefs such as Alex Atara in Brazil and many chefs in London are using their culinary creativity to turn something disgusting into something delicious.
It’s going to start with chefs, small food pop-ups and celebrity chocolatiers and, eventually, when the right kind of format is delivered (one that will pose not that you should eat them for the good of the planet but because they’re tasty) it’ll percolate to smaller restaurants and regular consumers.
3. Tech at the table
Digital artefacts will probably become a ubiquitous part of our food and drink experiences in the near future. We’re going to see things like augmented glasses that make sounds when you lift them to your lips, eating off tablets and computer screens that can tell stories around the food you’re eating.
For example, we’ll be able to change the colour of plates digitally (because we know that colours can alter the taste of food or make it look better); serve skewered grilled meats on tablets that look like the grill itself or use sensory apps which will offer you content to enhance the dish you’re having, e.g., a selection of Italian music tracks to go with your lasagne.
Sound of the Sea. Image via blog.fishtec
By playing music, you can accentuate the authentic flavours of the dish you’re having. Take Heston Blumenthal’s famous dish Sound of the Sea, for example. In this, ingredients with a distinctly oceanic character and flavour such as baby eels, razor clams, cockles, mussels and sea urchins are served on a glass-topped box containing real sand, and accompanied by headphones relaying the sounds of seagulls and the sea by means of a small iPod (placed in a conch shell) and earphones.
The importance of presentation has been continuously growing for the last 30 years. In the past, food was served just as it came out of the pan, and not much consideration was given to what it looked like.
"In 2015, food was the second most searched-for category on the internet"
But as more and more diners take pictures of the food they eat and post it on social media (which is a trend some chefs have been trying to fight, and their much-publicised responses include everything from limiting their diners’ opportunities to photograph the food during the meal, through to completely banning photography inside the establishment), it’s becoming more important for it to look good.
Researchers and food companies have, in recent years, begun to establish which tricks work best in terms of increasing eye-appeal of a dish, including, for instance, showing food, and especially protein, in motion to attract the viewer’s attention and convey notions of freshness.
We are just surrounded by food imagery everywhere: social media, television, cookbooks—in fact, in 2015, food was the second most searched-for category on the internet (after pornography). A growing number of us are actively seeking out images of food—a kind of “digital foraging”, if you will. How long, I wonder, before food takes the top slot?
5. The experiential meal
As we become more aware that food is not just what goes into our mouth, but a whole experience, we're seeing abstract dining—projections, music, lighting, special staff outfits, temperature changes—being incorporated into meals.
These are the things that have been going on in top restaurants in the last five, six years. But the idea of off-the-plate, experiential dining is going to grow and grow and percolate to smaller, regular restaurants in the coming future.
Different things are going to be put together: instead of having dinner and then going to the theatre, why not bring the two together? Same goes for cinema and music.
Image via creativiva
This is linked to the growing trend of "sensepiration"—the notion that people are interested in finding these new connections between their senses.
Events such as Tate Sensorium offer just that; in 2015, a few chosen paintings from the Tate collection were complemented by scent, virtual touch and music. For example, a Francis Bacon painting was paired with chocolate, encouraging people to discover how differently they interpret food or art with an additional sense. Does looking at the painting make the chocolate taste different?
Before too long, many of our more mundane everyday dining experiences, be they in chain restaurants, hotels, food and wine shops or at home, will be accompanied by some sort of multisensory experiential cues.
Feature image via mirelletome.com
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