We are tactile beings – the feel and texture of things that we encounter is very personal and very important to our life experience. Such is the case with the food that we consume. As is stated by the Institute for the Psychology of Eating – some believe that chew or experiencing the texture of food is an innate need to show a level of aggression – a necessary release for our piece of mind – while others simply point to the process of chewing as an essential part of the digestion process. In all cases, the concept of flavor depends on the texture of food, to be complete.
To this end, certain foods are defined by their texture or chew. What would a September apple be without that crisp snap when we bite into it, what would a great bagel be without the hard work of chewing, a pudding without the creamy texture of softened butter, or a steak without the rich chew that releases the deep umami sensation that is a result?
“So important is the level of crunch that many years ago, potato-chip manufacturers developed a sophisticated apparatus to measure the perceived level of crunch that consumers hear in their heads. The most pleasurable decibel levels were deciphered, and potato chips were subsequently manufactured to these standard orgasmic crunch levels.”-The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
Flavor is a complex and complete experience – it is far beyond the stimulation of taste receptors. To taste without chew is shallow and incomplete. Chew is something that has lasting meaning and, like smell, there is memory attached to it. Just as we remember and look forward to the texture of that fall apple, so too do we vividly remember what that experience is and use it as a benchmark of quality when it comes to judging all other apples.
Texture and chew is also a metaphor in life that points to how these “touch” events determine the depth to which we become one with life’s experiences. We are told to “chew on it” when presented with an opportunity or problem. Accountants “crunch” the numbers signifying a commitment to ensuring that the results are accurate and when we over-extend or take on too much responsibility we are said to “bite off more than we can chew”. It is this physical process or association that helps to define the type of experience that is a result.
As cooks and chefs build their flavor memory they must understand and categorize the process of connecting with texture, touch, and chew. Think about these products and experiences and how important touch, texture, and chew are to the dynamics of flavor.
- That first oyster or clam:
It is an act of faith in the strong recommendation from a chef or the result of a dare from others that allows us that first experience with a raw oyster or clam. Certainly, it is rare that anyone would choose to let a live shellfish slide down your throat for any other reason – yet, if we allow that incredible texture and ocean brininess to take hold – the flavor experience is like no other. In this case – chew is very subtle; we allow the throat to simply accept the texture of the sea.
- The French fry expectation:
Food companies spend countless hours trying to perfect the French fry experience. For the product to meet and exceed expectations it must retain its deep fried crunch on the exterior while yielding a soft and moist experience within. It is a delicate balance between the type of potato, the method of processing, the state of chill or freeze, how it is blanched, the type of oil used in deep frying, the temperature of the oil, and knowing how the cook will treat the whole process before the finished product is placed in the pass. With the French fry – texture is king.
- Ripe melon:
Melon is one of those fruits that thrive on the extreme. An unripe melon just doesn’t feel right in the mouth, is tasteless, and is likely quickly discarded by any who have experienced the benchmark of ripeness. When ripeness is at its peak – the texture is soft, yet still in complete control, the flavor is pronounced, the level of moisture is intoxicating, and the overall food memory created is exceptional. Once you experience a perfectly ripe melon – nothing else will do.
- Vine ripened tomato:
To meet the demands for tomatoes on the market – twelve months a year, and to be able to ship those same tomatoes without damage – they are far too often produced in a greenhouse, sometimes hydroponically, picked long before vine maturity, sometimes waxed and sent your way. The result is a firm and tasteless product that barely resembles what a perfect tomato should be. When a tomato is exposed to the sun, grown in rich soil, picked when it is mature and consumed while still warm from that July sun – it is something to write books about and sing its praise with song. When the texture of the skin serves to simply keep those warn tomato seeds from bursting forth, when the bite yields the powerful flavor and soft texture of that warm interior running down your chin – then you have a flavor memory that will linger until next season.
- The magic avocado:
Maybe more so than any other fruit – the avocado is a tough client for the chefs cutting board. Before it is ripe – the texture is uninviting and unwilling to add any value to the kitchen program at your restaurant. Left too long in its skin and the peak creaminess of a perfect fruit turns to a stringy and sometimes blackened interior that shouts to the cook that he or she has waited too long. When the avocado is perfect it is as creamy as softened butter, rich in flavor and brilliant in color. This is the fruit that serves as a centerpiece for salads, appetizers, and your favorite guacamole.
- Crispy skin of a roast chicken:
There are few preparations that point to the skill of a seasoned cook than a perfectly roasted chicken. When the cook pays as much attention to the skin as he or she does the breast meat or rich darkness of the thigh and leg, then the chicken experience is so prominent as to become a favorite meal. Basting, seasoning, covering and uncovering through the roasting process will yield that crisp, buttery, salty crunch that is the first thing that a knowledgeable consumer reaches for.
- A Georgia peach at peak maturity:
Stone fruits like plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots, and peaches can be just as fickle as the avocado. Typically picked before maturity so that shipping does not damage the fruit – these hand held products of nature can be too hard, too unforgiving, and too tasteless for positive food memories. When picked at or near maturity – the peach is an ambassador for Mother Nature. Soft with a small amount of bite, bursting with flavor of sweet and a little bit of tartness, dripping with nectar, and hard to put down – the ripe peach is right at the top of the food memory data bank.
- Artisan bread:
Very few foods are as satisfying as perfectly baked artisan sourdough bread. When done right – the combination of a crisp exterior and a chewy interior that releases more and more flavor the longer you chew is something that you can experience virtually once imbedded in your food memory.
- The stages of salt water taffy:
Maybe not the most prominent flavor that chefs think about, but in remembrance of your youth – walking on the beach and stopping at that salt water taffy stand is something that can define an important time in your life. Taffy has it all from a texture and chew standpoint. The warmth of the sun makes the taffy a bit sticky to handle, but once in your mouth you will always remember the changes from a challenging chew at first to different stages of softness until it finally melts and disappears. Incredible – imagine if chefs could re-create these stages with their dessert selections in a restaurant.
- Al dente pasta:
Al dente – or firm to the bite defines how most pasta is designed to be eaten. When cooked al dente – pasta is digested more slowly and thus satisfies your hunger for a longer period of time. The firmer texture creates a more enjoyable “chew” and retains far more flavor than over-cooked pasta that bleeds out its flavor to the salted cooking water.
- A comfortable dining room chair:
Aside from the food itself – the environment where we dine has much to do with the flavor experience. An uncomfortable chair detracts from the process of eating and attention is placed on finding a way to relax so that dining becomes a positive respite.
- The feel of the right flatware:
The feel and type of flatware can enhance the flavor experience if it matches the food ingredients, their preparation and their cost. A plastic fork and knife may be perfectly acceptable for that Nathan’s hot dog and fries, but the Black Angus rib eye steak deserves a rose wood handled Henkel steak knife and heavy, long tine sterling silver fork. The touch of the tools is part of the dish memory.
- The delicate elegance of the right wine glass:
Wine is such a unique beverage that is impacted throughout its life by numerous environmental factors. The struggle that the vine goes through to extract nutrients from the terrior will determine much of the grapes integrity and flavor; the process of touch as it applies to how the grapes are crushed (gravity fed or more aggressively pressed) will determine if the grapes are bruised and possibly change the deepness of flavor; the packaging for shipment of bottles will either protect or endanger the stability of the continued bottle fermentation; and the quality of the wine glass does, in fact, impact the experience of taste and aroma. If you have never been through a Riedl glass seminar then make sure you put it on your list of “must do” experiences
Touch, texture, and chew are essential components of the dining experience and critical elements that define your food memory benchmarks.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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