There seems to be an unwritten rule when it comes to eating in America – “If something is good then more of it will be even better.” A classic American hamburger becomes better if it is twice as large as the original, a beverage is somehow improved if it is supersized, an 18 ounce steak is far superior to a 6 ounce steak, and if a beautiful wine from Oregon or California is distinct and delicious then it would only make sense to drink a full bottle rather than a glass or two.
There are ample reasons why this logic backfires, yet more often than not restaurants and home cooks tend to fall into the trap of bigger is better. Excessive portion sizes pack on the calories and subsequent weight gain that plagues far too many American consumers, those supersized drinks contribute to many other health issues, and excessive alcohol only leads to a terrible 18-24 hour hangover. What is just as significant, and the reason for this article, is how “bigger” takes away the joy of taste and flavor intrigue.
In the long run, nothing supersedes the importance of taste and flavor when it comes to a great food experience. Presentation, room ambience, beautiful china and glassware, and certainly excessive portion sizes can never replace the significance of taste and flavor. It is this combination of flavor components that give a diner pause, this combination that excites the sensory touch points in the body and builds unforgettable memories of what it can be like to eat well.
Taste is a portion of the overall sensory experience – it is flavor (a combination of taste and smell) that defines great food. But, flavor can go beyond even these two components. Flavor can, and does, include texture (mouth feel), appearance, and even social interaction. It is the chew of a steak that brings out the nuances of flavor, the chew of a New York bagel that makes it unique, the crunch of a potato chip that creates an experience, and the soft and warm texture of a vine ripened tomato that demonstrates all that a tomato can be. How this food is presented may not have a physical impact on flavor, but it does help to build positive or negative perceptions about what the flavor might be.
“There are about 700 flavors that you can smell, but only five you can taste. A lot of times what you’re perceiving as flavor has nothing to do with palette, but it’s more to do with scents.”
– Grant Achatz
Yes, eating and in particular – dining, is a social event and although it may not be physical – the social environment, the people with whom you dine, will have an impact on the memory of taste and flavor. This is why we are rarely able to replicate the flavor experiences that we have had in restaurants or homes without the same people dynamic in place.
Chefs and cooks are the gatekeepers of flavor in a restaurant and in that role they must have a deep understanding of what it takes to build taste and flavor and know how to manipulate the dining experience to its fullest. The accomplished chef or cook must be able to:
 BUILD ANTICIPATION
If you look at the dining experience as theater then you can quickly see how each scene can build as the chef guides a guest to a definitive point of sensory pleasure. This begins with those initial contacts with food in a restaurant. Nothing should be viewed as utilitarian – everything is important in the process of building anticipation of something great and unique. The quality and temperature of the butter, the crusty, chewy artisan bread, the tasting amuse bouche, and the quality of the ice water are all very important. “If the bread and butter is this good – imagine what the entrée will be like.”
 EXCITE THE PALATE
Every item of food should be well choreographed to stimulate the olfactory senses and taste buds. This is where a cook’s knowledge of flavor comes into play. It is not only important for each dish to be well designed from a flavor perspective, but even more important to ensure that each dish build up to the main character in the meal – the entrée. Each dish should not remain independent, but be part of the entire work.
 CREATE A REASON FOR PAUSE
When a guest stops his or her conversation at the table and captures the moment to savor what he or she is tasting- then the chef has been successful. Whether it is taste, aroma, texture, or presentation, the key is to always design each dish to create a reason to pause and take note.
 BRING THE FOOD TO CENTER STAGE
The social nature of dining is critical to the experience, but when social interaction turns to discussions about the food or drink that the guest is consuming then eating transitions to dining and the memories will be forged forever. More often than not, the process is really about knowing the food you are working with and understanding how to allow the ingredients to rise to the occasion. Great cooking is all about knowing how to make this happen.
“The simpler the food, the harder it is to prepare it well. You want to truly taste what it is you’re eating. So that goes back to the trend of fine ingredients. It’s very Japanese: Preparing good ingredients very simply, without distractions from the flavor of the ingredient itself.”
– Joel Robuchon
 DEFINE A WOW EXPERIENCE
Create the unexpected, exceed expectations, build flavor combinations that are new and unique, and concentrate on melding taste, aroma, beautiful visual combinations of food, and satisfying textures and you will establish the “wow factor” that chef reputations are built on, and lasting guest experiences are made.
 LEAVE THE GUEST HUNGRY FOR MORE
Don’t allow yourself to be coaxed into the “bigger is better” trap. The best flavor experiences always leave the guest wanting more. Too much of a good thing quickly loses its value. The amuse bouche should be one bite, the appetizer just a few more, the entrée portion size less than 6 ounces, leaving room for a fresh, unique, small tasting of a dessert. Note that the average person cannot digest more than 1 pound of food at a setting. Anything more is gluttony and in the end will diminish the experience and tarnish the memory. You want the guest to leave with a high level of anticipation for his or her next visit.
 BUILD LASTING MEMORIES
Think back to your own experiences with food. It doesn’t matter whether it was a white table cloth restaurant or a bar-b-que shack on a busy highway – if the flavor experience was a wow you will always hold that memory close and likely tell dozens of people about it. There will always be that desire to return and rekindle that experience that has been imbedded in your subconscious. This is what the chef and cook strives to do, this is the sign of success that these individuals seek to achieve, and this is what brings professionals to a life of cooking.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting and Training
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