Food triggers memories. Be they good, or not so, there is no stopping a recollection. It is automatic, unique and usually emotional.
I never realised the intense focus we at Hartford House place on memories as we create new dishes until I ate at Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, FAT DUCK in Bray, London, in 2002. My eyes were opened to the power of this concept causing me to reflect, in great depth, on the combinations I introduce. I realised I lean towards re-vitalising dishes, with roots set deep in heritage, with new-age flavours. Think modern-day crepe suzette and beef wellington. Guests identify with what is expected and then the surprise element kicks in. This results in much table banter! The perfect example is a dessert on our menu called peanut butter and syrup on toast. It's a firm favourite - even for those who normally don’t enjoy this combination. The fun and surprise elements work hand-in-hand taking the diner's eating experience to another level. A serving of homemade bubble-gum or magic/crackle pop candy can be served as a palate cleanser. This conjures fond, fun-filled childhood memories. All our dishes relate to past experiences. This is the reason I stress the importance of menu presentations before dinner. Guests like to know the stories behind each dish. Every ingredient has a reason for being plated; this added knowledge enhances the experience
I have recently returned from a trip to Copenhagen in Denmark. There I enjoyed a remarkable tasting menu with Chef Rene Redzepi from NOMA restaurant - voted the World's Best Restaurant by S.Pellegrino. One of the 24 courses involved frying our own egg in hay oil for two minutes. To this we added foraged herbs and bright green herb sauce. The forest/garden-fresh aromas which filled the dining room were an unusually creative experience, conjuring many memories for us all. Unfortunately, a full-house English breakfast with sunny side up fried eggs will never do it for me again!
When seeing an ingredient or dish we automatically sum up the flavour - sweet, salty, sour, acidic and/or savoury playing their part; with colour, aroma and presentation impacting on expectation. By the time we place a morsel into our mouths we have a fair idea of what to expect. I remember being presented two jellies at FAT DUCK. I was told one was beetroot and the other was orange. This was confusing, to say the least. It played with my emotions and flavour database.
Happy memories come rushing in when I smell or think of my mother's crispy roasted chicken - with pork-sausage and chicken-liver stuffing - roasted butternut and crispy potatoes. Long lazy Sunday lunches with family and friends spring to mind. Another is seeing the rolling, scooping and the filling of a honey cone with rich, creamy chocolate ice cream. Here I reminisce clear, sunny, summer days at the coast. The list can go on forever...
We all have foodie memories so the saying, 'I do not eat to stay alive, I stay alive to eat', is true for me as I traverse my culinary adventure.