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We are “scratching the surface” of a multi-sensory world: Heston Blumenthal on the art of storytelling through food

There are more chromosomes dedicated to flavour detection than to reproduction, making the psychology of flavour one of the most complex areas of the human body, according to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

Speaking at SapientNitro’s Ideas Exchange (iEX) In London today Blumenthal said we are only just “scratching the surface” of the multi-sensory world, in which food and technology can be combined to create new experiences and evoke emotional responses from people.

“The whole purpose of art is to elicit an emotional response and food has the ability to do that as it involves all the senses, of which memory is core,” he said.

The parts of the brain dedicated to memory and smell are closely located, and often smell and sound can trigger nostalgia when combined with certain flavours of dishes, according to Blumenthal.

This has led him to develop dishes designed specifically to combine multiple senses including sound, with the view to sparking an emotional response from customers.

One such dish he created called The Sounds of the Sea, incorporated complex layers of flavours designed to look, taste and feel like the seaside. This dish is served with a seashell which holds an iPod within it playing sea sounds.

The dish has “evoked tears” for some diners, according to Blumenthal because of the personal memories it triggers. “The brain doesn’t need all the bits of the jigsaw to paint the picture,” he said, adding that the sensory triggers can at times be "even more powerful" than the food itself.

Blumenthal told delegates he has spent years using new technologies to adapt and re-imagine some of the dishes which put Britain on the map in past centuries including the Victorians’ Mock Turtle Soup.

For this he drew inspiration from Louis Carroll's book Alice in Wonderful, in which her character has to apply logic to a very surreal world. The result was a food experience called the Mad Hatter's Fob Watch based on the Victorian recipe for Mock turtle soup (see video).

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