The chef using psychology to hack our tastebuds

How we respond to what we eat depends on which senses are stimulated. An experimental tasting menu gives our correspondent food for thought

The cramped industrial estate on the rim of London, where the city’s edge splinters into countryside, looked like an unlikely culinary destination. But one chill autumn night, I was tempted there by the promise of a meal that might blow my mind – or, at least, short circuit it pleasingly. Kitchen Theory, founded by Jozef Youssef, a chef who has worked at both the Connaught and the Dorchester, describes itself as an “experimental gastronomic design studio”. While molecular gastronomy, popularised by chefs like Heston Blumenthal, employed the principles of chemistry to create incongruous gels and foams, Youssef focuses on psychological research. Working with scientists at Oxford University, he investigates how our sense of taste is modulated by the scents we smell, the sounds we listen to, the textures we rub as we munch away, and even by harder-to-tickle mental faculties like memory, fantasy and conscience. On the last Friday and Saturday of every month, Youssef plates up the fruits of his research to ten guests, each willing to pay £160 for 13 courses of tastebud roulette.