Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • MALE SPEAKER: Hello, everyone.

  • How are we today?

  • Give me a cheer.

  • Excellent.

  • I'm very pleased to welcome Charles Spence to Talks

  • at Google.

  • Charles Spence is a professor of experimental psychology

  • at Oxford University, and a gastrophysicist,

  • working at the interface between chefs,

  • food companies, and technology.

  • I've seen the slides.

  • They look incredible.

  • Please join me in welcoming Charles

  • with a round of applause.

  • CHARLES SPENCE: OK.

  • So it's a pleasure to be with you here this lunch time,

  • and tell you a little bit about the research we

  • do in Oxford, but also with food companies and chefs

  • around the world.

  • It's sort of this interface of psychology, neuroscience,

  • technology, and fine dining, it has

  • some of the insights that are emerging from the latest

  • kind of research at this kind of interface,

  • are starting to work their way out to home dining,

  • to a variety of real world situations,

  • to hopefully allow us all to eat a little more

  • healthfully in the future.

  • And it's all kind of premised on this idea of the perfect meal,

  • the title of the book.

  • Just feel the weight in your hands and you'll know,

  • there's quality there.

  • And the opening quote from the book, from MFK Fisher,

  • is one that kind of inspires a lot of our thinking.

  • "That once at least, in the life of every human,

  • whether he be brute or trembling daffodil,

  • comes a moment of complete gastronomic satisfaction.

  • It is, I am sure, as much a matter of spirit as of body.

  • Everything is right.

  • Nothing jars.

  • There's a kind of harmony with every sensation

  • and emotion melted into one chord of well-being."

  • If we all think back in our past over the last few years,

  • we've all had that kind of perfect meal experience.

  • My colleagues sort of think, well, we

  • can't study it, because it's kind of different for each

  • and every one of you.

  • Maybe for some of you, it's going for your gastro tourism

  • to some fancy Michelin starred restaurant

  • on the other side of the world.

  • For others, it might be nothing more complex

  • than a picnic on a summer's day in the English countryside.

  • Different for each and every one of us,

  • but I think that we can sort of study that perfect meal, what

  • makes it great, try and extract some generalizations

  • can be used in everyday life to kind of nudge our meal

  • experiences in the right direction

  • to be more stimulating, more engaging, more

  • memorable, and perhaps more healthy as well.

  • I'm certainly not the first to think about the perfect meal.

  • It is a topic that goes back at least a century.

  • You find some the first sort of mentions from 1894

  • from French chemist, Berthelot, talking about the perfect meal

  • and what it would be like sometime around about today.

  • And for all of the chemists, for the feminist writers,

  • and also for the sort of serious scientists,

  • it was this, the meal in a pill.

  • So he was imagining in 1894, thereabouts, what

  • it would be like in a century.

  • And the idea of sitting down to eat

  • and wasting an hour of your day with a multi-course meal

  • seems bizarre.

  • Surely in the future, we'll have a pill, we'll pop it.

  • And that will sustain us through the day

  • and we'll need nothing else.

  • Just take this quote from-- where has he gone?

  • "Looking Forward: A Dream of the United States

  • of the Americas in 1999," written in 1899 by Arthur Bird.

  • "In order to save time, people in 1999,

  • often dined on a pill, a small pellet which contained

  • highly nutritious food.

  • They had little inclination to stretch their legs

  • under a table for an hour at a time

  • while masticating on an eight course dinner.

  • The busy man of 1999 took a soup pill or a concentrated meat

  • pill for his noon day lunch.

  • He dispatched these while working at his desk."

  • So he could be more efficient as a result.

  • That's what they thought was going to happen in 1999,

  • but it has not come to pass obviously.

  • And why not?

  • Because I think food is so much more than just

  • about nutrition and sustenance.

  • There's a whole sort of psychology

  • behind our experience of food, the way we eat

  • and what we enjoy eating.

  • And that is the theme for the book, "The Perfect Meal."

  • Myself, I worked together with Betina Piqueras-Fiszman,

  • my co-author, working in a psychology department

  • at Oxford, trying to understand the factors that

  • make one meal experience better than another

  • or that it can ruin a great evening simply

  • by just getting one sensory cue or trigger wrong.

  • And this is what we can think of as gastrophysics,

  • the new sciences of the table, which means since 1984, when

  • Harold McGee came out with his "On Food and Cooking,"

  • that was a whole three decades we've had,

  • a little over, of sort of science in the back of house,

  • science in the kitchen, science of new techniques of food

  • preparation, a rotovaps and sous vide and all sorts of stuff,

  • changing the way that food is prepared,

  • at least in the hands of some chefs.

  • We've also had the kind of emergence

  • of all sorts of new ingredients as well

  • to deliver textures and spumes and foams

  • and all kinds of stuff we had never had before.

  • Three decades, that's taken us a long way,

  • and it's certainly changed the way

  • that we eat, at least sometimes, but it's

  • all science in the kitchen.

  • Where I think it's changing now, and that's

  • kind of the idea of gastrophysics,

  • is it's science moving to the front of house,

  • to the dining tables, in the restaurants,

  • because they're easy to study, or can be, through to the home

  • dining, anywhere where we eat.

  • It's a science of the diner.

  • And it's gastrophysics.

  • So it's gastronomy, we're interested in high end

  • food in the first instance.

  • But also physics from psychophysics,

  • which is the kind of psychology, the measurement

  • of the human-- what different inputs lead

  • to different kind of outputs.

  • Normally it's done with lights and sounds

  • in front of a computer screen, but we want the gastrophysics

  • of real food experiences.

  • Study what matters, what doesn't matter, and how to create

  • insights that are actionable in the matter where or who

  • you might be serving food to.

  • I keep coming back this sort of thing,

  • that food is so much more than just about food.

  • So, imagine yourself as the chef,

  • and you've learned all the techniques.

  • And until recently you'd kind of think, well,

  • if I know I source my ingredients locally.

  • I prepare them beautifully.

  • Perhaps I give a little attention

  • to how the food appears on the plate.

  • If I do all that, it'll be enough.

  • I can deliver great meal experiences.

  • But in fact, I think, you need to know

  • about the mind of the diner as well in order

  • to change people's behavior for the better

  • to deliver great meal experiences.

  • What I'm seeing now, kind of inspired

  • by the likes of Ferran Adria in Spain and Heston Blumenthal,

  • just up the road in Bray, is a whole generation of young chefs

  • who are popping up, starting up, opening gastropubs,

  • culinary artistry events in the UK

  • and elsewhere, who for the first time are thinking,

  • I need to know how to make great tasting food.

  • But on top of that, I want to know

  • what's going in the head of my diner or order

  • to really meet their expectations

  • or completely confound their expectations.

  • But I need to know what's in here.

  • So a couple of examples of why you need to know more than just

  • about how to prepare food well.

  • First one is this kind of ugly beast

  • of the deep, the Patagonian toothfish that has been

  • on restaurant menus for years.

  • It just was never very popular.

  • Would you order it yourself on a menu in a restaurant?