Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Eating with our Eyes" or "What's in a Name?".

Although I'm unsure who said "presentation is everything," it was celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck who grew famous telling us that we "eat with our eyes." As a guy who has spent a career dabbling in the aesthetic, I agree whole heartedly... but how about a little anthropological data to support what I (think) I've always known?

Food TV personality Ted Allen hosts a show called Food Detectives, where food myths are debunked or validated, and all things culinary are considered. I saw a segment this week where 2 test groups where set at different times to give reviews of a particular meal. The first meal was prepared and served in a simple dining area with standard overhead lighting, no table cloths, no table accouterments,  and no embellishing the food's presentation. The second seating spent more time on the environment -- lowing the lights and placing candles on the table, and dressing up the meal presentation itself. 

But here's the other side of this experiment... each seating included a menu for those dining. Menu one simple said it how it was -- fish was labeled "baked fish," green beans were listed as such, and the wine was labeled "New Jersey Red," which was served in plastic cups. Yum. In round two, the "baked fish" had become Panko crusted St. John's filet, green beans were listed as Haricot verts (pronounced hair-co-vere,) and the Jersey hooch was relabeled as Napa Valley Cabernet.

Remember, both meals were identical. After each group had dined, they were surveyed. On a scale of 1 - 10, the results averaged as follows: Group 1 = 3/10, while group 2 = 8/10. Additionally, each group asked what they would expect to pay for a meal like the one they had just received. The staggering results... group 1 averaged a price tag of $10 per person for the less impressive dinner, while group 2 was happy to fork over $38 per person.

There's certainly a lesson in aesthetics here, but the amazing expectation that proper "naming" sets is well worth considering. Perhaps it's the difference between saying "enjoy your meal," and "bon apetito!"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Don't write like a band... write like a piana'

"You don’t write like a band... you write like a piana’. We were a big piana’." -- Eddy Byrne speaking on his playing with Thelonious Monk.

Simplicity is an art seldom perfected. Einstein is noted as saying, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." That is, well... simply brilliant. I just purchased the documentary Helvetica (trailer can be seen HERE) and it supports what I've been feeling recently (I thought it was old age creeping in)... what's passing for communication these days is often just clutter. Cool and whiz-bang is ok -- and even invited around ADG... but concept and messaging needs to be clear, and alas, simple.

I heard a great NPR segment recently called Monk At Town Hall celebrating 5 decades of the genius that was Thelonious Monk. During the radio cast, trombonist Eddy Byrne spoke of playing with the great pianist as well jazz heroes like bassist Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis -- whose legendary trumpet skill is, even today, some of the finest ever recorded. Despite the monumental talent of each individual contributor, Burke and the collective strove to sound as one voice. "A big piana'" as he so eloquently put it. Complexity well formulated and thought out is simplicity at its finest.

Try this: black coffee, big chair, dim lights, and Blue Monk (one of his best offerings, available here at Amazon.) Life is undoubtedly complex. Here's an opportunity to simplify, if only for the 10 minutes and 13 seconds that the legendary pianist tickles the ivories on my favorite tune by the master.