Multi-sensory dining experiences getting more attention from travelers

Each dish on the 20-course avant-garde Ultraviolet menu manifests a new “taste-tailored” atmosphere using sound, scent, lighting and imagery. Source: Facebook/Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet

MULTI-SENSORY dining experiences have captured the attention of food enthusiasts the world over. 

But don’t write this off just yet – this is no gimmick. The philosophy behind it is rooted in both science – molecular biology, psychology, and neuroscience – and the culinary arts.

Curious to know more, we took a look at its origins and what travelers can expect.

What is multi-sensory dining?

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Many people believe we taste with our mouths, but according to research in neurogastronomy, we actually taste with our brains.

Our perception of flavor is formed collectively from information gathered by taste buds and also our other senses – sound, touch, sight and especially smell – all of which is processed in the same area of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex.

This concept underpins multi-sensory dining, with chefs working to create an immersive experience to stimulate each of the senses and enhance the flavor of dishes.

Putting these sensory manipulations to the test, experimental psychologist Charles Spence and Chef Heston Blumenthal, discovered sound, in particular, could intensify taste perception.

Now, auditory stimulation is an often used tool at these venues including Blumenthal’s own. At his Fat Duck pop-up restaurant in Melbourne, he famously stunned diners serving his sashimi dish “Sound of the Sea” with an iPod and specially curated soundtrack to magnify its flavors.

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The rise of ‘sensploration’

Multi-sensory restaurants can be found throughout the world in Europe, America, and the Asia-Pacific, although they are still few in number. In a small market, this level of exclusivity only serves to heighten their appeal with many rumored to be booked up months in advance.

Each restaurant regards “sensploration,” as an art form and strives to offer its diners a unique experience that is forever evolving to encompass new technology and innovative culinary techniques. In this way, the philosophy, methods and menus remain fresh.

Story concept

A popular approach in immersive dining is to create a narrative for the experience. Using state-of-the-art, multi-sensorial technology, restaurants choreograph a performance for guests that begins as soon as they enter and steadily unfolds throughout the evening.

Ultraviolet in Shanghai has perfected this method. Each dish on the 20-course avant-garde menu manifests a new “taste-tailored” atmosphere using sound, scent, lighting and imagery.

Together, these elements tell a story and evoke the senses to trigger memories, emotions and flavors, something Chef Paul Pairet calls “psycho-taste.”

Future of multi-sensory dining

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As immersive dining captivates and delights audiences around the world, the future looks bright for this area of gastronomy. Yet, this already diverse field looks set to add a new string to its bow, virtual reality.

Melbourne-based restaurant Lûmé is one venue exploring its potential, unveiling its Looking Glass virtual reality dining experience last year. Using VR headsets and specially created fragrances, Chef Shaun Quade transports guests to the Yarra Valley where they embrace the sights, sounds, and smells of the area where the produce was grown and picked, before serving each dish.

With more projects like this in the pipeline and new venues emerging, multi-sensory dining will likely be around for some time to come.

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