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3 Most Important Elements of a Plate...


emhahn
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This thread is going to hell in a handbasket, so there's nothing new there :laugh:

Going?

Chef cooks a roast Bresse chicken

He presents you with one secateured quarter of the chicken on a plain white plate

He presents you with a second quarter of the same chicken, sliced in a staggered pile, on a fancy bone china plate, with a lacy drizzle of red and green around the rim of the plate, a few strands of palm frond looped around a sprig of parsley, and a tiny, beautifully sculpted ice statue of a chicken at the side.

Does the chicken taste the same in both cases ?

No. But let's be clear that I'm equating taste with perception of flavour as I think we must.

If you were writing a review of the restaurant, how would you compare the two dishes in terms of their taste ?

If you think the second dish "tastes better" then suggest the maximum order of magnitude that could hypothetically be achieved for the difference, like maybe 1% better or 50% better.

To flesh out your Gedankenexperiment, take a 100 gourmets, who are unaware of the nature of the study. Give half of them the elaborate presentation, half the simple. (They should probably not see the alternative presentation.) Have them score the dish on a scale of 1 to 10. A week later repeat the experiment with each gourmet receiving the other presentation. If you didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the taste ratings, I would be stunned. I would guess that the more elaborate presentation would average between 10% to 20% higher.

Now suppose the first dish was cooked using Bresse chicken, and the second dish used a $6 frozen chicken from a supermarket. Do you think that it could be hypothetically possible for the fancified frozen chicken to "taste as good" as the simple Bresse chicken ?

Hypothetically, yes, practically, no.

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If you didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the taste ratings, I would be stunned. I would guess that the more elaborate presentation would average between 10% to 20% higher.

I think part of the problem you are having is you are underestimating what it means to be a true gourmet. You are not taking into account how much of a buffer their expertise provides against the type of manipulation you have described.

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Two distinct claims:

1. Presentation can affect someone's evaluation of the taste of a dish.

2. Some people have sufficient expertise to be able consistently to distinguish between taste and presentation.

2. may be true, but does not falsify 1.

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Well at least that moves the issue forward. Problem is, you will find out that any restaurant that is calibrated to a non-expert standard, is for practical purposes not a great restaurant. So when you take that into consideration, I think you will find that the effect presentation has on the ultimate taste of the food is limited to enhancement. Unless you get into ChefG land where their goal is to rescramble the egg everytime.

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It's nothing to do with how the restaurant calibrates itself. Ironically, presentation is much more important at the kinds of restaurants you like than at those which you view as not calibrated for experts.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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Well we didn't say it wasn't an important aspect of the meal, it's very important. We just said it doesn't modify the taste.

I think people have said it "can't" modify the taste. In the face of numerous counter-examples, both anecodtal and scientific, they have been unable to provide an argument for this, other than the claim that the taste just is the scientific structure of the food - an argument I showed was spurious. If you're saying presentation sometimes affects taste and sometimes doesn't, then I don't think there's a dispute. If you're saying it can't, you'd better have some reasons.

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I think people have said it "can't" modify the taste. In the face of numerous counter-examples, both anecodtal and scientific, they have been unable to provide an argument for this, other than the claim that the taste just is the scientific structure of the food - an argument I showed was spurious. If you're saying presentation sometimes affects taste and sometimes doesn't, then I don't think there's a dispute. If you're saying it can't, you'd better have some reasons.

I'm not saying this at all. But I am saying that in the context of the original post, how much the aspect of presentation affects a dish served in a top quality restaurant, my answer is, not very much to diners with lots of expertise. But of course, if we take the original question which was about presentation in dining, and we allow the scientists to co-opt the issue and turn it into a experiment in the field of taste deprivation, I have no opinion on what that result would be. But I'm sticking to my guns when we are talking about reasonable dining experiences.

But I'll tell you the following. If you took a prime NY strip steak and minced it, and then formed it into the shape of an apple and then painted it with red food dye, you would trick me. Not into thinking it was an apple, but its true identity would be muddied. But I promise you I would figure it out eventually. It's just a matter of changing one's visual perception of the item, which is something learned by rote to begin with.

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But let's be clear that I'm equating taste with perception of flavour as I think we must.

I don't believe that's right in the context we're discussing. After all, this is eGullet and not a discussion group on holiday destinations or bungee jumping :laugh: Why do you "think we must" equate taste with perception of flavour ? Surely the interest we all share is in a much more intellectually disciplined equation. Suppose you review a meal and say "I perceived that the truffles tasted of oysters, but that may be because I had just eaten a dish of oysters, or maybe because I had a heavy night drinking yesterday, or because I'm suffering from sinus problems, or I've never eaten truffles before and I didn't know what they were supposed to taste of and my companion said they tasted like oysters and my friend is very persuasive". Now that review may be a perfectly valid description of your perception of flavour but I don't think it would be worthwhile posting at eGullet as a descriptive review.

I'm not saying that you would be somehow "wrong" to have perceived the flavour in that way. I'm simply saying that the concept of "equating taste with perception of flavour" is a non-discussion in this forum. You might just as well equate taste with whether or not you like it, or whether or not you happened to be in a good mood when you ate the food. That may be an optional definition of taste, but I don't find that definition to have any merit.

Going back to my "identical chicken" example, what you are saying is that your taste is influenced by considerations outside flavour. You are saying that simple visual stimuli actually affects your perception of the flavour of food. Presumably, therefore, you would also say that sound affects your perception of flavour (the dish tastes better because the restaurant has soothing music being played?) and that the general aromas in the restaurant affect your perception of flavour, and so on.

This means that your perception of the flavour of food is not solely, and perhaps not even primarily, related to the flavour of the food. The question then is whether the flavour of the food itself is a constant. In other words, can we ever describe the flavour of a food ? Since how you perceive that flavour varies significantly according to a range of external factors, it is clear that you cannot consistently describe your perception of flavour. So do you disqualify yourself from describing the flavour itself ? Do you believe that a lemon has a sour flavour, and if so why ?

To flesh out your Gedankenexperiment, take a 100 gourmets, who are unaware of the nature of the study. Give half of them the elaborate presentation, half the simple. (They should probably not see the alternative presentation.) Have them score the dish on a scale of 1 to 10. A week later repeat the experiment with each gourmet receiving the other presentation. If you didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the taste ratings, I would be stunned.  I would guess that the more elaborate presentation would average between 10% to 20% higher.

I like your alteration to my experiment, and I would really love to conduct it :biggrin: I am applying for an eGullet grant, and my two great pleasures will be firstly selecting the participants, and secondly proving your conclusion wrong :laugh:

I think the mistake you're making is to suggest that a "gourmet" would simply give a single score for the dish. He would actually, probably without any prompting even on the nature or objectives of the experiment, deliver a score for taste and a separate score for presentation. That's what I see here at eGullet in huge numbers of critiques. People instinctively say things like "The food was excellent but the presentation didn't do it justice" or "The presentation was unusual and certainly added to my enjoyment of the meal".

What I simply cannot believe is that people with a real interest in food would actually include the influence of presentation on their evaluation of taste. Now my PM box is going to fill up with applications from 100 eGullet members to participate in this experiment :angry:

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If you didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the taste ratings, I would be stunned. I would guess that the more elaborate presentation would average between 10% to 20% higher.

I think part of the problem you are having is you are underestimating what it means to be a true gourmet. You are not taking into account how much of a buffer their expertise provides against the type of manipulation you have described.

Have you ever tasted a wine at the winery - you know overlooking the vineyards, the mountains - on a beautiful day and loved it only to be slightly disappointed when you tasted it at home? It seems like something is missing in the wine?

What's missing is the presentation.

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Have you ever tasted a wine at the winery - you know overlooking the vineyards, the mountains - on a beautiful day and loved it only to be slightly disappointed when you tasted it at home? It seems like something is missing in the wine?

What's missing is the presentation

No. I don't know about you but, when the glass isn't up to my mouth, I'm usually peering into the glass and swirling.

Wine doesn't taste better in a beautiful setting. But it is more pleasant to drink it in one.

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Have you ever tasted a wine at the winery - you know overlooking the vineyards, the mountains - on a beautiful day and loved it only to be slightly disappointed when you tasted it at home? It seems like something is missing in the wine?

What's missing is the presentation

No. I don't know about you but, when the glass isn't up to my mouth, I'm usually peering into the glass and swirling.

Wine doesn't taste better in a beautiful setting. But it is more pleasant to drink it in one.

The point is you have a mental predisposition to like it. This gives the wine an advantage.

No one is totally immune to the influence of environment, mood and your own body (tired, etc.) - no matter how 'expert' they are. Even the most experienced tasters admit to 'good' and 'bad' days. The most talented chefs can make mistakes in matching flavors - if there were no variables in taste and the way the world around us affects taste this would not happen.

Presentation is just one of the potential variables in taste.

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Is the flavor of food a constant? - asks brother Macrosan. A good question. The quickest answer is no, clearly not. A longer answer would be: if one defines the tasting conditions, right down to the chemical properties of a taster's saliva, then one might anticipate relatively little variation in flavor.

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Is the flavor of food a constant? - asks brother Macrosan. A good question. The quickest answer is no, clearly not. A longer answer would be: if one defines the tasting conditions, right down to the chemical properties of a taster's saliva, then one might anticipate relatively little variation in flavor.

This again approaches the issue the wrong way. The flavor of food is constant. What changes is our ability to taste it correctly. Impaired tasters have invalid opinions.

The point is you have a mental predisposition to like it. This gives the wine an advantage.

I am quite surprised you are talking this position. The goal and purpose of wine tasting is to eliminate externalities and concentrate on what is in the glass. Of course you can't always do that, but it is the goal when you taste.

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I have already refuted the argument that the flavor of food is constant because it is identical with the physical and chemical properties of the food. Since it's evident that the same food will taste different depending on tasting conditions, you need some sort of evidence for your assertion that the flavor of food is constant. It just isn't self-evident. I agree that to the extent tasting conditions don't vary much, the flavor won't vary much, but that supports my argument as much as yours.

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I am quite surprised you are talking this position. The goal and purpose of wine tasting is to eliminate externalities and concentrate on what is in the glass. Of course you can't always do that, but it is the goal when you taste.

I could not agree more - that is the point of wine tasting. However to think that as a human being you can always eliminate all external stimuli is to lie to yourself. The best tasters are honest to themselves about their own strengths and weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is that we are human and perfection does not exist. The only way to become a great taster of wine (and food) is to understand that these distractions and variables exist.

Lets jump to something in your background - music. Does not the cover of the CD have an effect on how a teenager perceives the music?

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If the flavor of food and wine were constant, pairing the two would be a doddle. The wine would always taste the same, whether drunk with chocolate or Stilton. Now, I know nobody is claiming that, but they have to figure out what the heck they are claiming.

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Now now, Wilfy, don't go all silly on us. It's your mission, should you choose to accept it, to keep pulling this discussion back to something vaguely resembling the planet Earth, you know :angry: Tsk tsk.

Water tastes like water, but when you squeeze lemon into it it tastes different :smile:

However, the water and the lemon each possess the same flavours they started with, it's just that in terms of a person tasting the mixture, one flavour is dominating the other so you can't taste the "milder" flavour.

Similarly there must be some flavours which, when mixed, create an entirely new flavour by a process of chemical reaction.

So let's stick to the holistic approach and talk about a dish, and how it's flavour or its taste might be changed solely by presentation, shall we ?

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I have already refuted the argument that the flavor of food is constant because it is identical with the physical and chemical properties of the food. Since it's evident that the same food will taste different depending on tasting conditions, you need some sort of evidence for your assertion that the flavor of food is constant. It just isn't self-evident. I agree that to the extent tasting conditions don't vary much, the flavor won't vary much, but that supports my argument as much as yours

No you haven't offered any evidence of the sort. You have just offered evidence that says that humans are fallable and our ability to taste is often impaired. As such, things often taste differently to us. But that has nothing to do with the way that wines from the Musigny vineyard are supposed to taste based on the geological make-up of the vineyard site. That is always a constant.

You see there is a fundamental difference we are having here. I believe that a person and their tasting ability are subordinate to ingredients which are a constant. Tasting, the correct definition, is the ability to taste the natural qualities of the ingredient as well as its offshoot, the recipe, correctly. But if your definition makes the ingredients fungible because it's all a matter of perception, that means that the worst commercial field corn can be "better" then the best sweet corn, just because our taste buds have undergone some gross maniuplations. That can't be right. Fine dining is about recognizing the superiority of the Musigny vineyard. That part of it is a constant and isn't a matter of percpetion. It's something that is organic.

I could not agree more - that is the point of wine tasting. However to think that as a human being you can always eliminate all external stimuli is to lie to yourself.

More things I didn't say. In fact I said the opposite of that. If you happen to find yourself having one of those bad tasting days, you need to invalidate your opinion because it is worthless.

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To flesh out your Gedankenexperiment, take a 100 gourmets, who are unaware of the nature of the study. Give half of them the elaborate presentation, half the simple. (They should probably not see the alternative presentation.) Have them score the dish on a scale of 1 to 10. A week later repeat the experiment with each gourmet receiving the other presentation. If you didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the taste ratings, I would be stunned.  I would guess that the more elaborate presentation would average between 10% to 20% higher.

I think the mistake you're making is to suggest that a "gourmet" would simply give a single score for the dish. He would actually, probably without any prompting even on the nature or objectives of the experiment, deliver a score for taste and a separate score for presentation.

Maybe, but the sole point is to compare scores on "taste". If the only thing that is different in the 2 conditions is the presentation, then we can conclude that that made the difference in the scores, if there's found to be one.

For some reason many find the possibility of the scores being higher in the "elaborate presentation" group a threat to balanced restaurant reviews. I don't see it that way as the presentation doesn't constitute the whole, only a part.

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But let's be clear that I'm equating taste with perception of flavour as I think we must.

I don't believe that's right in the context we're discussing. After all, this is eGullet and not a discussion group on holiday destinations or bungee jumping :laugh: Why do you "think we must" equate taste with perception of flavour ?

I think we must because that's what taste means in this context: to taste something is to perceive its flavour.

I think the mistake you're making is to suggest that a "gourmet" would simply give a single score for the dish. He would actually, probably without any prompting even on the nature or objectives of the experiment, deliver a score for taste and a separate score for presentation.

I'm only asking for a score on flavour, not presentation, as in your original setup.

People instinctively say things like "The food was excellent but the presentation didn't do it justice" or "The presentation was unusual and certainly added to my enjoyment of the meal".

Of course. No one is claiming that poor presentation will make something good taste terrible or vice versa.

What I simply cannot believe is that people with a real interest in food would actually include the influence of presentation on their evaluation of taste.

I'm not suggesting that they'd consciously let it affect their score. My thesis is that presentation unconsciously affects the way we taste something.

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