What your food is telling your customers

By Gilberto E. Geronimo, DSL, CFM Warrant Officer 1, U.S. Army, Food Service Technician
Chef Gilberto Geronimo plates a dish

Have you ever considered how many of our interactions center on food? From first dates to family gatherings around the holidays, we usually enjoy our time with one another accompanied by good food and drink. For a chef, however, interactions involving food occur on a daily basis, from preparing food for themselves to feeding their loved ones and diners.

Communication between people occurs so intrinsically at times that we often don’t realize its occurrence. Consider the messages many Chefs and home cooks may be communicating to those that eat the food they cook. Since this form of communication is non-verbal, it can go unnoticed to even the most skilled chefs, home cooks and food service professionals.

One form of nonverbal communication that derives from cooking is Gustoric communication. Our sense of taste carries content based on the foods we eat to the brain. It sends messages of pleasure or displeasure the moment our palates come in contact with food. Gustorics communication is not limited to the sense of taste, but is also tied to the visual perception of a plate that has the proper eye appeal, colorful components, height and proper balance of ingredients — not to mention the aroma left by perfectly cooked foods.

Unknown to many in food service (particularly those who cook intrinsically or for their loved ones as part of their nurturing routine), a lot of information is communicated to someone via a plate of food’s taste and presentation. Someone who is served a savory, well presented, flavorful, colorful and nutritious meal that appeals to the senses of sight, smell and taste is receiving several messages. A beautiful plate of food has the potential to communicate that the chef is passionate, talented, skilled and knowledgeable in the artistry of cooking and cares about the quality of food that others consume.

Sitting around the dinner table with loved ones, it is likely that the message received by a family member will be an indication of love. A meal with all the proper components can communicate that their loved one cares for their well-being and health, based on the quality of food they were served. Additionally, the plate can help identify when the cook may be upset, or not in their usual frame of mind, if the food is not to the same standard or quality that he or she normally provides.

Mediocrity communicates the exact opposite to someone being served by a chef. “Reactions, either good or bad, are extremely important to a Chef, as they are like an after action review,” says Chef Adam Berry, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army currently serving as the sole 2018 Training with Industry candidate in the Culinary Institute of America. “It gives the chef an opportunity to correct mistakes made and achieve a good consistency in items served.”

Courtesy of SSG Adam Berry

Although feedback proves to be beneficial for the chef, what does a substandard product communicate to the customer or loved one? Based on the aforementioned interpretation of positive Gustorics communication, the lack of effort (or negative Gustoric communication) can communicate the lack of passion, lack of skills in cooking and the absence of care in the nutritional quality of foods provided to diners.

However, the messages received can vary. What one person perceives as mildly spicy and delicious may be hot and distasteful to another, which can result in two different people receiving two distinct messages from the same plate. Palates and senses of taste differ due to geographic locations and the type of foods that they are accustomed to eating, making Gustorics communication a complicated yet beneficial tool in kitchens all over the globe. It can provide the chef with an overview of how they communicate through food, and can improve a chef’s skills in interpreting how others react when they pour their artistic talents onto a plate.

Of course, it can also aid and strengthen communication between loved ones at home.

Courtesy of Chef Jose Garcia

All in all, Gustorics, The Study of How Taste Communicates, is an area of great interest to health care providers because proper nutrition is essential to human health and survival. Gustorics should be of great interest to professional chefs, too. It can be used to improve the quality of food we prepare and continue to grow the food service industry through passion, dedication to food service and customer satisfaction.

10 techniques that a chef or home cook can employ to improve his or her Gustoric Communication skills:

1. Know the audience you’re cooking for.

2. Accept feedback (good, bad or indifferent) as constructive criticism to positively improve cooking skills.

3. Exercise creative flexibility that will allow you to shape your products to the palate of the customer, not the other way around.

4. Insert passion in every aspect of cooking, from mise en place to plating and everything in between.

5. Pay attention to details: those of the customer, those of your food and those of the techniques used to prepare every bite.

6. Incorporate nutritional items into every component when possible.

7. Apply a personal signature to every plate that will communicate that you have prepared every item with pride.

8. Prepare all components so that one item complements the other, including the transitions between multiple courses.

9. Be innovative in the cooking process and experiment with new ingredients that will enhance traditional recipes whilst maintaining their original qualities.

10. Continue to study the art of cooking, its origin and rich history and the evolutionary changes it undergoes every day.

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