Chefs witness this on a daily basis, but most of us disconnect from the notion that food influences us far beyond the digestive tract. Eating is a multi-sensual experience and what we hear plays a significant role. With food, sound supports the other senses, placing us in a three dimensional experience. Even though it seems to play a background role, the influence of sound on our heart and mind is perhaps the most powerful sense. Feng Shui practitioners have long noted sound plays a significant role in environmental balance. What we hear inspires us to react and that is why the audible landscape is important in all stages of how we relate to a food experience.
According to Pythagorus, and confirmed by Plato, sound is the first, primordial, element. This is also embraced by the Vedic texts from India, which are some of the oldest books in the world. According to these beliefs, sound is an original element that creates vibration, thereby creating movement within the universe. If humans could hear across the entire aural spectrum, we would discover everything would have a sound, including what we currently perceive as silence. The Vedic texts imply physical environments can change through sound. It is also thought to affect our mind, body and spirit in a similar fashion.
Ancient Greeks often spoke melodically, still evident through Cretan spontaneous poetic traditions of Mantinades. Sanskrit is also poetic language, verbalized with meter and rhythm and with melodious incantations still heard in temples today. Called Deva Nagiri, Sanskrit is described as a heavenly language structured to affect change in the world when enunciated. Vedic Brahmins maintain chanting specific Sanskrit mantras can change physical environments, mundane elements and alter cycles of action and reaction, otherwise know as Karma.
We all experience in everyday life, how music can change moods, evoke passions and greatly effect perception. Constant noise and harsh noises, Cutting words, arguing, criticism and expressions of anger are vocal distractions can have opposite effects. Abrasive soundscapes often create stress, adding clutter and distraction to life. What we listen to affects our mindset, bodily movement and clarity of spirit. It is natural to see how an aural environment influences cooking. Cooking is an expression of the inner self and many chefs approach culinary endeavors as a conveying knowledge, caretaking traditions and expressing creativity. Not unlike a skilled orator, the eloquence of communicating through food preparation is a language full of beauty and grace.
Traveling to Crete with my father and son, we encountered simple tavernas where waves lapped in symphonic meter by our feet, while we savored a crisp cucumber salad glistening with the liquid gold of fresh pressed extra virgin olive oil. Local dialects would epitomize the Greek word onomatopoeia, with mellifluous chatter beautifully decorating the sounds around us. We entered a meditative state, mixed with the scents of the sea and the olive oil-basted grills, gentle lapping of the waves intertwined with colorful Greek language. A concentrated effort to extract ourselves from the hypnosis was necessary if we were to accomplish tasks of the day, much like Odysseus and the Sirens.
A visual landscape is dramatically enhanced by sound. The transition from silent film to ‘talkies’ is one example of the difference. Sound gives depth and definition to sight. In order to create a fulfilling dining experience, chefs and restaurateurs sculpt the sound experience to compliment and enhance the sensual immersion. Sound can be complementary to a meal, a background mood enhancer which soothes and excites. Anticipation and salivation are encouraged with the sight of food cooking with companion sounds like crackling, spurting, bubbling, puffing and sputtering. Sound intertwines with the other senses, such as taste, sight, touch and aroma for a true multimedia experience. Crunching, slurping, chewing and swallowing add depth and tonality. Some old-world cultures respect a good belch at the end of a meal signifying a successful dining experience. Listening plays an important role when we eat. too. A spice can change the nature of a preparation, similarly, what we hear when cooking and eating can effect outcomes and digestion.
Cold preparations seem to produce more sounds due to fresh brittleness. A mellifluous combination of crunches, snaps and juicy sound bites can be intriguing, fun and fresh.
The snack food industry is testimony to the human addiction to crunch. Take the sound away from crunching and the texture alone will not give the same satisfaction. The sounds of eating inside and outside of the jaw, are comforting and familiar. Crackers, chips, nuts, apples, corn, celery, carrots and many other foods are crunch worthy. In a dinner, a light, delicate crunch from a garnish, or integrated crispy pastry, provides a surprising and very pleasant addition to the sensual experience. A salad is an ideal course for exploring crunching with fresh, crispy greens, delicately cut vegetables, toasted nuts and the snap of fresh cherry tomatoes.
Dessert can turn into an extravaganza for all the senses when it has a crunch factor with sweet pastry or a candied nut.