Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Way With Words…

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More than ever during our build-out process, there’s been the need to articulate food and presentation in a cohesive manner in (what seems like) two lines or less.  The task of compressing expression is incredibly difficult and beckons me to ask this question: can you define the make of a man in two lines or less? 

The introspective answer is clearly a resounding “no”.  Without selling themselves short, I’m not sure anyone could genuinely be able to express themselves in two simple sentences.  Unfortunately, people (myself included) have a constant need to compartmentalize every aspect of our lives – a byproduct of a social requisite for productivity, effort and efficiency.

Defining things into neat, tiny and easily understandable packages seem to be important for many because it’s the most linear way of simplifying what is perceived as a busy or complex lifestyle; evident by the thousands of careers based on this principle alone.  They even made a show about it: it’s called Mad Men.   

With that said, I’ve spent a lot of time the last month concentrating on verbalizing my food and concept.  It is incredibly difficult – which is why I often need outside perspective and assistance in doing so.  And as much as I don’t always agree with the process, I absolutely understand its necessity.  Marketing, wording, formatting, menu description and design is paramount because people desire information in the proper measurements. 

There have been instances where menus have been an undeniable factor in restaurant success and failure.  Wording in a menu can be the difference in customer expectations including: how much people order, what people order and how people ultimately judge their meal.  A menu that reads like a book can be intimidating, tiring and confusing for diners – which can lead to a situation where the words may ultimately overwhelm the food.  A menu that reads too minimalist can be too vague and uninformative – leading to improper interpretations/expectations of what is actually written versus what is actually served.  The dream menu should have the perfect balance of food seduction and honest expectations, which is honestly impossible. 

Keeping in line with this theme of compartmentalizing our lives with simple things and words, (apart from the discussion of menu construction) I think there is a lot of danger in the desire to approach our food with this mentality.  Inherently, cooking in a basic form is simple – the French can tell you that they only require three components to make anything taste great: heat, butter and salt.  However, the perception of cooking for many is often a cumbersome and complex task, whereas the simplest road to nourishment is processed and fast foods.  And, if you can’t infer the relationship already, these processed items are amongst the most complicated, deliberate and chemically contrived.  

While I’m no master of painting food into language (clearly not a food critic), I am an admirer of the art of written/sensory interpretation and reaction of food.  It may sound odd to label something so vague and subliminal as an art form, but I think the ability to manipulate reaction and expectation should be considered as a creative process.  There have also been studies in effect of food and perception of flavor via the sound of words, known as synesthesia.  It intrigues me that specific wording can be met with an associated sensory perception whether that is a component of our nervous system or merely a Pavlovian reaction.  In other words, is “bacon”, “butter” and “sausage” really as sexy as it sounds?  Is it even better if I call it “sexy bacon”?

Hopefully, down the line at the Summit, we will find ways down the line to explore and develop some of these ideas experimentally in an interactive format lining food, words and sounds together in an provoking way.