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!"

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