Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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? Probably not. If you saw the picture, definitely not. But simply a little bit of rebranding calling this Chilean sea bass, exactly the same fish, looks still as ugly. But suddenly sales increased by 1,300% in Australia, North America, in the UK simply by change of name, completely changes our food behavior, what we choose to eat and what we don't. Sure, great food, but on top of that, you need to know what to call it. Another kind of classic example of why the chef, I think, needs to know about what's going on in the diner's mind. Here we have a dish, and within the blink of an eye, your brain has decided what it is. Your brain is a prediction engine, trying to figure out where the nutritious food is in the environment. So you see that and within 150 milliseconds, your brain's decided, yeah, that's probably ice cream, probably cold, probably sweet. I'll probably like it. Maybe I'll have a scoop later. But I'd have to go to the gym. And probably the flavor is a red fruit, a raspberry or strawberry, something like that. All went through your mind without you thinking, just in the blink of an eye or less. But the only problem is, that's not the flavor of this ice cream. So this is actually a frozen savory ice, popular in the UK a century ago. And this comes from the Fat Duck Kitchens. So it could be a smoked salmon ice cream or a frozen crab bisque ice cream. So the chef makes this dish, maybe is the world's top chef at the time. He thinks it's seasoned perfectly. It fits into sort of the theme of historic dining. He brings it out and gives it to some of his preferred guests who are regulars at the Fat Duck restaurant. But when they put it in their mouth and they taste it, they're going to go, ugh. I didn't like it. It's too salty. But the problem was, the chef thought it was perfect. He's the world's top chef. But the diner said, no, it's too salty, pulls a funny face, does not like at the time and does not like it when they come back two or three weeks later. It will remain salty in their experience. The problem here is a matter of expectations. Because the diner was thinking it was going to be a sweet-tasting strawberry or raspberry ice cream. In fact, it was savory and salty. Their expectations were disconfirmed. They didn't like it. Whereas if I just tell you before you put a spoonful of this to your lips, that this is food 386, a term that means nothing to any of us, kind of vaguely scientific sounding. But that title for the dish is enough that when I give you, here, a spoonful of my new dish, food 386, suddenly when you taste it, you'll kind of withhold your expectations and it will taste seasoned just right, the way the chef experiences it. So no matter what you do in the kitchen, if you don't know the expectations of your diner, you can't really predict how they're going to respond or optimize the meal experience. And if vision is so important, we might think about the future of food. Here we've got original sushi on the left, augmented reality sushi on the right. This, we were working with Katsu Kojima over in Japan. There was about 70 vision scientists thinking about a time, sometime in the future, when maybe we've fished the seas to extinction of all our favorite sushi fish. Could we, with our headset, like the one you see there on the bottom right here.