Television programme schedules in the UK, and I guess in other parts of the world, contain a regular diet of shows about all aspects of food, and generate substantial audiences, sometimes even influencing the nation’s eating and shopping habits. 

Presentation of the culinary dishes is often a very important aspect of these shows, especially those that are competitions, such as the BBC’s Masterchef series, but contestants often fail to please the judges on this score.

So, it was interesting to read a paper recently published in ‘Flavour’ (an open access journal) that described a research experiment to see if different presentations of a single dish of food affected attitudes towards the dining experience, ‘A taste of Kandinsky: assessing the influence of the artistic visual presentation of food on the dining experience, Charles Michel et al, University of Oxford.

The authors conducted an experiment in which participants were served with one of three presentations of a salad dish prepared with 30 ingredients, comprising varieties of vegetables, sauces and condiments. 

The three presentations were described as ‘regular’ (ingredients mixed in the centre of the plate); ‘neat’, with the ingredients laid out separately on the plate and an art-inspired presentation based on ‘Painting number 201’ by the abstract artist Kandinsky. 

The authors factored in time of day, gender, age and whether or not participants considered themselves a foodie or not, with a questionnaire on their perceptions of the dish when first served, and then a further one after they had consumed part or all of the dish. 

The questionnaire included measures of liking the presentation, willingness to pay, perceived/actual tastiness. Participants individually took part in the experiment, the dish being served at a restaurant type table with the researchers randomly selecting the presentation across time of day and gender.

The art-inspired presentation was liked more than the other two versions – the artistic nature of the presentation being recognised, if not the actual painting behind the inspiration. 

Whereas all versions received similar ratings for tastiness prior to consumption, the score for the art-inspired version increased by 18%, levels remained the same for the other two presentations, as did the other measures for ‘regular’ and ‘neat’ versions. They were also willing to pay more for the art-inspired dish.

The results suggest that presentation really matters for the dining experience. The question left open is whether mimicking a work of art triggers the same response in the brain as the original painting. 

How would the enigmatic smile of a Mona Lisa inspired dish compare with the response to a Picasso? 

However, the findings do suggest that humans have an innate sense of artistry which can be translated from the canvas to the plate. 

Maybe contestants in programmes like Masterchef should read the academic literature in addition to the recipe book!

Your thoughts, as ever, are welcomed in the comment area below.

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