Are you just a taster, or are you a supertaster?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2015
A supertaster is a person who experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average. But what does this mean? We thought the best person to ask would be a supertaster themselves so, we spoke to Jozef Youssef, supertaster and mastermind behind innovative and collaborative project, Kitchen Theory. Jozef-Youssef-plating“A supertaster means that you have this ability of being able to perceive and pick up a more delicate balance of taste and seasoning in dishes,” explained Jozef Youssef. “Supertasters tend to shy away from very strong and heavily seasoned foods or anything that has a very pungent taste, where as non-tasters are a little more adventurous.” Jozef is the man behind Kitchen Theory, a collaborative project that operates both online and off. It started out as an online space for Jozef to ‘share ideas and knowledge on gastronomy’. Covering topics such as food science, food culture, food history, multisensory flavour perception, neurogastronomy and molecular gastronomy. Jozef describes it as somewhere to put down the things he finds interesting in the hope that others will too. He has worked at the Fat Duck, with Helene Darroze at the Connaught and at The Dorchester Hotel; and believes being a supertaster could be an advantage when you’re a chef.

>>> See our video with Jonny Lake, head chef, Fat Duck

He said: “I think being a supertaster is great if you’re a chef. You need to season your dishes and find a good-balance but, being a non-taster does not mean you miss out completely.” You have up to 10,000 taste buds, spread over your tongue, mouth and throat. Each taste bud contains up to 100 taste receptor cells, which respond to different substances in your food. These taste cells send information about the type and amount of substance to your brain. Tastes are traditionally divided into four categories: salt, sweet, bitter, sour or umami – the flavour common to savoury products such as meat.Langoustine poached in hazelnut butter with white miso velouté For Jozef, being a supertaster holds certain expectations that may not necessarily be true. He said: “Everyone assumes that being a super taster means you have this great advantage, that you taste food better and that’s not necessarily the case.” In fact, it can mean that because you are sensitive to taste you won’t enjoy certain foods that a non-taster would. Kitchen Theory explores all things food and science, studying the relationship between the two. Jozef also wanted to create an experience that was unlike any other dining experience. He believes chefs are beginning to think about the how’s and why’s of recipes, ingredients and how they work and said: “They have a much deeper curiosity about the whole dining experience and how our senses work to paint a picture of the world around us.” Kitchen Theory goes beyond just being innovative for Jozef as he describes himself as a “curious chef.” He explained: “I think when you seek knowledge, the more you realise you know, the more you realise you don’t know and I think that sets the path for a continuous journey or learning and exploration.”

>>> Find out more about Kitchen Theory here

Kitchen Theory focuses on more than just taste. Not only does Jozef create these conceptual ideas and turn them into a menu but he also works closely with Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research group at the University of Oxford. The Crossmodal research group specialises in research about the integration of information across different sensory modalities. Jozef explained: On stage with Professor Spence at Cheltenham Science Festival.“We do a lot of research with his department in terms of looking at the multisensory perception of flavour. So, looking at how our senses interact and perceive the world around us.” So, not only are Jozef’s taste buds on overdrive but clearly, his innovative ideas are too. Talking about his research he explained the process behind on eof his creations, the taste sphere, one of which is Guiness. He said: "We tried several variations of the Guinness sphere. We realised early on that the 'flavour' of Guinness is very much dependent on the texture. It's that creamy, airy foam which gives a rich body to the flavour. Once flat it's just quite a weak flavour and lacks complexity. Normally you try and get rid of bubbles in spheres, however in this case we foamed the whole drink and trapped the air in using xanthana. The aerated mix must then be frozen otherwise it will just float in the alginate bath. We had very good results in the end, lots of flavour trapped in each sphere!" Sensory perception is a large part of Kitchen Theory as Jozef explained: “Predominantly, we are an experimental kitchen. So, we spend most of our time actually doing research.” Setting the project in its combined food and science background. The combination of the two comes from Jozef’s passion for the art of gastronomy. Having originally followed a different path Jozef found himself back in the kitchen and becoming more and more interested in the idea of not only cooking, but also “hosting people, feeding people and the whole idea of what a restaurant is about.” Collaboration is another huge part of how Kitchen Theory works it’s at the core of what Jozef does. The concepts draw on knowledge from more than just chefs and academics. Kitchen Theory’s current concept in the pipeline is Mexican themed, as Jozef explained: “We’re collaborating with some groups from the Mexican chamber of commerce, the Mexican board of tourism, Mexican chefs, Mexican artists and musicians.” Showcasing the broad spectrum of ideas from all different people that go into each and every one of Kitchen Theory’s concepts.Guinness sphere However, all of these different ideas and minds are not meant to take the menu over the top, instead Jozef explains: “What we do is develop sensory dining experiences that aren’t about putting on a big show. It’s not about trying to wow, shock and impress people with strange and incongruent food.” Kitchen Theory works by putting on events that are based around their concepts. They only run for a certain amount of time and are more concerned with smaller groups than large surges of people. The events started about two years ago and will normally cater for around 14 -18 people. “It will typically be a multi-course menu,” explained Jozef. “So something around 7-9 courses.” These events are a pretty unique experience focusing on how our senses perceive food and how the visual impact of food is important. The events test how things such as texture of the food, tactile sensations and mouth feel all combined with taste will influence the way we taste food. “Mindful gastronomy is designed to get guests to savour the food they are eating, be mindful of what they are eating and to be focused on the dishes and getting a full experience of the flavour,” said Jozef. A chef of many talents he has also writeen a book, Molecular Gastronomy at Home, aimed at giving it’s readers an easy to understand introduction to the world of molecular cooking and all the ideas and concepts associated with this modernist style. Sophia's Lips - a beautiful dish created by @stefanodecostanzo for our Sensualità by Kitchen Theory conceptJozef believes that before starting on a quest to become a ‘molecular’ cook, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the underlying scientific principles behind each technique- the ‘how’ and ‘why’ certain techniques work the way they do. Jozef and Kitchen Theory is a pioneering force behind the research on how people enjoy their food. The idea of being a supertaster appears to be deep-rooted in his ideas as he explores how the senses affect the way different people taste. His drive to start Kitchen Theory was based on his experiences in other kitchens as he explained: “With everything when it comes to cooking, as chefs, we tend to rely a lot on intuition instead of delving deeper and understanding the how’s and why’s of what we’re doing.” That is exactly what Jozef is doing, looking at the how’s and why’s and Kitchen Theory has become very successful because of it.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2015

Are you just a taster, or are you a supertaster?