Oxford University. It is the oldest university in the English-speaking world—dating back to at least 1096—and one of the most esteemed anywhere. Notable students include Aldous Huxley and Oscar Wilde, Indira Gandhi and Stephen Hawking, Sir Walter Raleigh and Bill Clinton.
When you think of Oxford, you probably figure people there are ruminating endlessly about the subtle complexities of long-forgotten prose and the infantile sycophants of Big Science. Well, that's true.
But they're also thinking about food.
Charles Michel is chef in residence at Oxford University's Crossmodal Research Laboratory, and he has just completed a study that has proven this academic juggernaut, which has undoubtedly been troubling scholars for centuries: heavy cutlery makes food taste better.
Yes. Michel put 130 people in a hotel restaurant in Edinburgh. They all ate identical meals: trout with mashed potatoes, spinach and capers and brown shrimp butter. Half of them were given heavy cutlery—the fancy kind—and half ate with cheap stuff that weighed three times less. They totally should have had some knife-wielding sociopaths sneaked in there as a control.
Anyways, the subjects who used the heavy cutlery were willing to pay 15 percent more for their food. They thought their food was more artistically plated and tasted better. And—for the first time in academic history—the experiment showed that the people using the weighty knives and forks thought their food actually tasted better that those who were given the lightweight cutlery.
Michel thinks heavier cutlery may capture the attention of diners more, increasing their awareness and enjoyment of what they are eating. He told Wired, "It's interesting to think that the heavier weight of cutlery could be making us more mindful, without us realizing it."
Michel is considered a gastrophysicist. This is a new field that was not around when Oscar Wilde was lounging on chaises in his dorm room. Practitioners in this growing field have proven all kinds of interesting facts about eating. For example, they have shown that background music can influence how sweet, salty or sour food tastes. Eating from rounded bowls make people feel more full. Using larger serving spoons makes you serve yourself more food.
Michel is putting this knowledge to the test in real-world applications. He is working with a designer and silversmith named Andreas Fabian to develop bowls and utensils that will help people eat better.
Fabian has a PhD in spoons. I am not making this up and am fiercely jealous of his credentials. Indeed his bio says, "His practice-based PhD (Brunel University 2011) originated in the idea of a reflective cross-disciplinary enquiry intended to explore fundamental questions around what Andreas defines as spoonness." That one Pokémon who always carried around a spoon would have killed with this guy.
Well, thank God the great minds of our century are figuring out how to make our food taste better. Chefs can only do so much.
Turn up the music, use some comically big spoons, and please pass the heavy cutlery. I'm ready to eat.