Experiment Shows How Chef’s Personality Can Affect People’s Opinion of Food

By Mike Pomranz |

© Clover No.7 Photography / Getty Images

Everyone likes to meet the chef while dining out; it makes you feel like he or she really cares about you and your experience. But a recent experiment shows meeting the person behind your meal may do more than better your experience, it might literally help your food taste better.

Marketing company CatchOn invited 48 diners to a French restaurant in Hong Kong under the pretense that they would be taste testing a dish—saffron risotto with licorice and lime—to help the chef refine it. The dish was then presented two ways. The first version was made with high-quality ingredients like rich homemade chicken stock, but was accompanied only with a card matter-of-factly describing the ingredients. The second version was made from bouillon powder and tap water, but this time, the “chef” (who actually wasn’t even a chef at all, but the restaurant’s owner) came out and provided a long, emotional explanation of this actually inferior version, saying it was inspired by a childhood memory.

Unsurprisingly, when asked to rate the dishes, 77 percent of participants decided they liked dish number two better. The second risotto also ranked higher in perceived quality, taste, aesthetics, smell and portion size—with that last one being especially weird, since both dishes were the same size.

The people behind the experiment say it’s proof of the importance of personality when it comes to creating a great meal. “There was a time when a chef spoke only through what was served on the plate,” Virginia Ngai, CatchOn's director of strategy, told CNN. “This is the reality of what it takes for chefs to be successful today. They've got to be equal parts scientist, artist and storyteller to stand out.”

Of course, the experiment has one huge flaw: The two risotto dishes were fundamentally different. Maybe that homemade chicken stock just wasn’t as good as the chef thought it was? It’d be interesting to see how identical dishes would be rated under similar conditions. But truthfully, the experiment can’t be that bad—I heard it was inspired by a childhood memory.

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