Why We Should Eat More Of Our Food Off Tablets

To many, the concept of involving augmented reality (AR) in how we interact with food is a bit ‘out there’ as a concept. But at my upcoming London Food Tech Week keynote speech (Tuesday October 31) I’ll be unveiling details of my latest project, The Un-Instagrammable Dish, which will delve into how AR can actually be used to change and, more importantly, to enhance our experiences of eating in restaurants and thereafter in the home environment.

But why ‘The Un-instagrammable Dish’? After all, the latest research shows that taking a photo before eating it can actually improve the perceived taste and memorability of a dish. What is more, all the social media coverage of a chef’s signature dishes is undoubtedly great in terms of generating free publicity for a restaurant.

However, it is important to recognise that these benefits come at a cost. On the one hand, if a dish gets shared too widely on social media there is a danger that any element of surprise is lost when a new diner experiences the dish for the first time. On the other hand, there is also a very real danger that a chef end-up focusing too much of their attention on how a dish looks, and not enough time thinking about making great tasting experiences – a point that has been eloquently made by chef Jacques La Merde.

Together with chef Jozef Youssef of Kitchen Theory, who shares these concerns, over the last year we have been working on the idea of creating The ‘Un-Instagrammable Dish’ – a dish that can only be experienced by the diner. One of our ideas in this space is to use the mobile device or tablet as a plate and hence provide a multisensory experience using AR (and at the same time removing people’s ability to take pictures of the course), and so hopefully maintain the element of surprise.

By way of example, seafood could be plated up directly onto the tablet and the device could then play out sounds of the sea while showing the waves underneath.

2017-10-26-1509042760-3560676-Instagramdish.jpgCredit: Author’s own image

Alternatively, this AR approach could work with plating up food from sustainable sources; one could, for example, hear the story of the origins of the food (or farmer) from the device to really add an interesting and immersive dimension. Currently, one would have to book a seat at chef Jozef Youssef’s Gastrophysics Chef’s Table to have this kind of multisensory experience. But in the long-term most people walk around with some amazing technology in their pockets / on their person, and the challenge is to use that technology to enhance the multisensory experience of eating and drinking for us all.

Some top chefs are already ‘playing’ in this space: Think only of Switzerland’s Andreas Caminada who serves one course off a tablet screen that shows (ironically) a round white plate while Spain’s Elena Arzak serves some of her barbecued food on a tablet depicting a burning charcoal BBQ. But the real challenge here is to demonstrate that eating from a tablet can genuinely enhance people’s food experiences and thereafter, how to roll this kind of AR solution out into the home environment (i.e., to the mass market).

Another of our proposed solutions is the make the dish itself out of entirely matt black ingredients and serve it off a matt black plate, so that even if the diner were to take a picture of the dish, all they would get is a black image. Here, the challenge is really for the chef to take the colour constraint and deliver a dish that is as tasty as it is conceptually pleasing.

My London Food Tech Week keynote speech Playing Mind Games with Your Food will explore how unlocking the understanding of the human mind can influence the design of multisensory environments, foods, and products to support the growing experience economy. For more on the future of technology and food, see my latest book (Spence, C. (2017). Gastrophysics: The new science of eating. London, UK: Viking Penguin.

A standard passport to London Food Tech Week starts from £1,000 with 70% off for Food Tech start-ups. To book your place and find out more about the events visit www.yfood.com/london-food-tech-week.