Eating with Experts
Get a totally different take on eating Eggs Benedict with a biopsychologist and a gourmand.
The following is not a full transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
"Studio 360's" Kurt Andersen sits down for a meal of eggs benedict with two eating experts: biopsychologist Marcia Pelchat, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center; and John Willoughby, the Executive Editor of "Gourmet Magazine".
The eggs benedict aren't your run-of-the-mill eggs benedict -- they're prepared by chef Wylie Dufresne, a leader in the culinary movement called molecular gastronomy. Using surprising chemicals like liquid nitrogen, Dufresne invents dishes that both charm and confound.
Dr. Pelchat identifies secret ingredients of the meal: emotion, memory and nostalgia.
She breaks it down: "In one of the few scientific papers on what makes food palatable, the idea of dynamic contrast is examined, and that's the idea that there are different textures within food. Now it can be something like icecream that starts solid and melts in your mouth, or it could be something like a BLT or an eggs benedict that has a number of different textures in each bite.
"In terms of flavor, you have taste and smell and texture as the primary components, and there are inborn taste preferences. Everybody's born liking sweet; salt preference isn't there at birth, but it seems to mature without any particular experience. But aromas seem to be learned, so our response to aroma -- what aroma goes what taste, is a matter of culture and experience. One big controversy is over fat, and whether fat preference is something learned or inborn."
Willoughby: "I think that people are super sensitive to texture. In this culture, we don't really like slimy food ... in Asian cultures they do love it. And I think there's nothing like crunch -- I don't know if it's cultural or not, but I just do think Americans, and I'm one of them, love crunchy food. So anything with a deep fried crust ... all the popular junk foods are crunchy."
Sensory psychology plays a big part in our enjoyment of food, according to Dr. Pelchat: "For example, have you ever eaten anything very sweet, and then taken a sip of wine or orange juice -- we all know that it's horrible, well, why is that? The reason is that the taste system adapts to stimulation very quickly, so if you eat something sweet, the next bite that you take you'll be very insensitive to sweet."
Willoughby: "I think that some of the chaps who are into this so-called molecular gastronomy movement are starting to do that -- they're playing with your expectations, and with temperature as well -- a soup that is hot and has cold things in it ... or they'll have something that's a different color, so it looks orange but it doesn't taste like anything that's usually orange. So that you never really know what to expect as you eat and you're constantly being surprised. It's really food as fun and entertainment."
PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy — so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.