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How We Taste

How We Taste

Featuring Dr. Dana Small, Chef Wylie Dufresne, & Peter Meehan

May 14, 2014 

As part of our 2014 public lecture series, we explored the concept of taste from the perspectives of a scientist, a chef, and a food writer. Dr. Dana Small described how our brains respond to flavors. Chef Wylie Dufresne of Wd~50 presented his creative approach to generating surprising food flavors and textures.  Peter Meehan shared his experiences with food and taste and how they have shaped his writing, both as a cookbook author and former writer for The New York Times.

Check out the highlights or watch the full lecture below

Wylie Dufresne on Science in the Kitchen and It’s Impact on WD~50

“Cooking is a lot of things and one of the things we discovered was that cooking is a science. There’s certainly some biology. There’s certainly some physics. There’s an awful lot of chemistry at play all the time when you’re cooking… One of the main reasons I opened up WD~50 … was to create a space where I could continue my culinary education, where my staff could continue their culinary education, and where you as a diner, if you so choose, could continue your culinary education.”

Wylie Dufresne on his Aerated Foie Gras 

“How could we, using some very modern technology, walk the idea of a mousse down the road? … Part of the problem with a mousse is that it usually has a lot of stuff in it besides the main ingredient… So what we wanted to do was to figure out if we could create a mousse of foie gras, or if we could aerate foie gras without adding or taking too much away from the flavor.”

Peter Meehan on Developing Taste and Eating Everything

“The first step in developing the taste to become a restaurant critic: Eat … I tried to just each everything… the more I ate the more I understood about food and the more I could draw connections about one thing and another… You start to make these mental points on a map of where flavors are in relation to each other.”

Dr. Dana Small Defines Taste

“There’s molecules and ions in the foods that we eat and they bind to cells on these elongated taste receptors [tastebuds]. When enough binds, the cells get excited. They send a signal to the brain that the brain then interprets as a taste … Taste evolved to detect the presence of nutrients and toxics … You’re born knowing that you like sweet and dislike bitter … because you don’t want to have to learn that sweet is energy and bitter is toxin.”

Dr. Dana Small Defines Flavor and How It’s Different from Taste

“Flavor, on the other hand, preferences and liking for flavors is entirely learned. This has the advantage of allowing us to learn to like available energy sources and learn to avoid particular food items … The flavor allows us to identify a particular item that was associated with a particular consequence that we need to remember… whereas the taste provides just a signal about whether an energy source as in the case of sweet is present.”

Watch the Entire Lecture

Nutrition Neuroscience & Flavor Perception

Frosting

Our next public lecture is coming up fast! To get ready for How We Taste, read up on how Dr. Dana Small is helping us scientifically understand our relationship with food. Read more

Dana Small

Dr. Dana Small is a Professor in Psychiatry at Yale University, a Fellow at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, and visiting Professor at the University of Cologne. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind flavor preference formation, investigating the role of cognition in chemosensory perception, and determining how the modern food environment impacts brain circuitry.  She currently serves on the executive committee for the Association for Chemoreception Sciences and the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

See Dana Small May 14, 2014 at “How We Taste”

dana_small

What hooked you on science? On food?
I just loved biology class. It was love at first sight. I became a neuroscientist interested in flavor and food because I wanted to understand neural circuits that regulate appetitive behavior. Neuroimaging had just become available and I wanted to know if what we understood about the neurobiology of appetitive behavior in rodents applied to humans. The rodent work was based on studies where rats pressed a lever to have food pellets dispensed. I guess that means that rat chow got me hooked on food!
The coolest example of science in food?
Jelly beans because they are the perfect food to demonstrate that “taste” is mostly smell.
The food you find most fascinating?
Soufflé.
What scientific concept–food related or otherwise–do you find most fascinating?
Evolution. I am interested in understanding how the environment shapes biology—including the food environment.

Are there any analogies you like to use to explain difficult or counterintuitive food science concepts?

If I can speak of neuroscience of flavor, then I like to compare the oral capture illusion (which occurs when volatiles that are in the nose are referred to the mouth) with the visual capture that occurs when one watches TV. The sounds comes from the speakers but appears to come from the actors’ mouths.
How does your scientific knowledge or training impact the way you cook?
My scientific knowledge totally influences how I cook and eat. I avoid all artificial sweeteners and liquid calories (OK, except wine). I rarely eat processed food. I buy organic and try to eat locally. I eat a big breakfast and a light dinner. I avoid foods high in glycemic index (except on a special occasion) and search out high fat yogurt as a favorite lunch.
One kitchen tool you could not live without?
In truth I should be kept out of the kitchen!
Four things most likely to be found in your fridge?
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries.
Your all-time favorite ingredient?
Eggplant.
Your standard breakfast?
Steel cut oats, pomegranate seeds, blueberries, raspberries, and sliced almonds. Its my biggest meal of the day. Double latte.

Science & Food UCLA 2014 Public Lecture Series

2014LineUp

The 2014 UCLA Science & Food public lecture series is here!

General admission tickets are available for $25 from the UCLA Central Ticket Office (CTO) . Tickets can be purchased from the UCLA CTO over the phone or in person and will not include additional fees or surcharges. The UCLA CTO is located on-campus and is open Monday–Friday, 10am –4pm. A UCLA CTO representative can be reached during these hours at 310-825-2101. Tickets can also be purchased online from Ticketmaster for $25 plus additional fees. A limited number of $5 student tickets are available to current UCLA students. These must be purchased in person at the UCLA CTO with a valid Bruin Card.


2014ScienceofSushi

The Science of Sushi
Dr. Ole Mouritsen & Chef Morihiro Onodera
Wednesday April 23, 2014 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA

In this lecture, Dr. Ole Mouritsen will illuminate the science underlying sashimi, nori, sushi rice, umami, and more.  He will be joined by Chef Morihiro Onodera who will share his approach to sushi as well as an inside look into his partnership with a rice farm in Uruguay.


2014NeuroScience

How We Taste
Dr. Dana Small, Chef Wylie Dufresne, & Peter Meehan
Wednesday May 14, 2014 at 7:00pm
Schoenberg Hall, UCLA

In this lecture, we will explore how we taste from the perspectives of a scientist, a chef, and a food writer. Dr. Dana Small will describe how our brains respond to flavors, and shed light on the link to obesity. She will be joined by Chef Wylie Dufresne who will present his creative approach to generating surprising food flavors and textures.  Peter Meehan will share his experiences with food and taste and how they have shaped his writing, both as a cookbook author and former writer for The New York Times.


2014ScienceofPie

Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie)
Dave Arnold & Chef Lena Kwak
Sunday June 1, 2014 at 2:30pm
Ackerman Grand Ballroom, UCLA

At this event, Dave Arnold will discuss his latest culinary innovations and the role of creativity in food. He will be joined by Chef Lena Kwak who will share her process of invention, research, and discovery in the kitchen. Also at this event, students of the Science & Food course will present the results of their apple pie projects, including their freshly baked pies in a large-scale pie tasting. The event will close with an Iron-Chef style discussion of the winning pies featuring the keynote speakers and renowned judges from the Los Angeles community.