Can a puff of oak wood smoke or the sound of lapping waves change the way you taste food? More and more chefs are starting to think so. At the 6th annual International Chef's Congress organized by StarChefs.com, the theme for the year is the 6th sense. Beyond, sight, sound, touch, smell and, even, taste, the 6th sense is the emotional experience of dining that transcends food.
This sensation in the diner is not one thing; it is different for every person. It could be a sense of home or a memory of childhood. It could conjure up the feeling of autumn or a sensation of love. As Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago says, people are no longer solely seeing dinner as the bridge to something else in the evening, "dinner is the movie" Here's how you can bring this idea of the 6th sense into your home by emulating what top chefs are doing across the world.
1. Change the Place
The restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK has a course where the diner is adorned with headphones and listens to the sound of the ocean while eating a fish course. What you can do: Plan your music around the theme of your dinner. What about the sound of a crackling fire along with your grilled steak?
2. Change the Season
Achatz has actually burned branches in the dining room of Alinea to create the familiar smell of burning leaves, evoking a sense of fall while serving a pheasant dish. What you can do: Burn cinnamon while eating apple pie, adding another layer to the experience.
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3. Create a Connection
At New York City's 11 Madison Park sometimes the actual chefs serve the courses, bridging the gap between the diner and the kitchen. What you can do: Serve the meal yourself to your guests instead of having everything family style, or have guests serve each other.
4. Bring the Source to the Diner
Achatz wanted to serve a fresh summer tomato in a way that was interesting but also left the amazing ingredient as untouched as possible. He is re-creating the experience of plucking a warm summer tomato from the garden by bringing an individual garden to the table, dirt and all. What you can do: A simple way to do this is to serve oysters in their shells or salads in edible serving bowls. Remove the veil between diner and food. We recommend serving food in dirt be left to the professionals.
5. Go Back in Time
Achatz remembers tasting pancakes at a fancy restaurant and realizing that they did not taste as good as his mother's Bisquick mix pancakes. Taste isn't always about what is best in terms of ingredients or preparation, but about how a food makes us feel. His response was cereal milk soft serve, invoking the memory of childhood in a new, creative dish. What you can do: Make cereal milk ice cream! Or think about your childhood, what do you remember? Bring a shared flavor into a dish in a unique way. Coat chicken fingers in captain crunch as Planet Hollywood does, or serve Ben and Jerry's S'mores ice cream.
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6. Toy With Thematics
Achatz has seen severs presenting a red course dressed in red, bringing the servers into a more central role in the experience. What you can do: Theme the menu with similar colors and dress the table appropriately. Or, change aprons as you bring out courses. Do the unexpected to shake things up.
7. Play with Your Food
The musical fish course from The Fat Duck also included edible sand, and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richards Blais used a pressure cooker to create mustard seed caviar. What you can do: Try reimagining ingredients. Think of a mudpie, the crushed cookies are the dirt and the chocolate mousse is the mud. What else can something be?