Long gone are the days when knives, forks, and spoons were mere implements for transporting food to our mouths in a civilised manner. Thanks to technological advances and new research into how we eat, electric forks can now make food taste saltier and battery-powered spoons will trick your tastebuds into thinking vegetables are chocolate.
The most recent development from the world of kooky cutlery comes from Oxford University experimental psychologist Charles Michel and Buckinghamshire New University designer Andreas Fabian. The pair have created a spoon that they say can make any food taste better.
How exactly? It's shaped like a finger.
Michel and Fabian, who sell the Goûte spoon under their joint Michel/Fabian brand, say that by recreating the experience of licking food from your fingers (yes, Nutella-straight-from-the-jar-style), flavour is enhanced and eating becomes more pleasurable.
We spoke to Michel about how the Goûte spoon can make anything taste finger lickin' good.
MUNCHIES: Hi Charles, so how did the idea for the Goûte spoon come about? Charles Michel: The collaboration started with Andreas Fabian about two and a half years ago. I'm a chef but I've been working outside of the kitchen for a while and studying psychology for a few years. When I met Andreas through some research I was doing, we had an intellectual crush on each other! We started designing the spoon as an experimental thing to pose questions about how we eat and challenge the conventions of eating rituals.
We started to refine our prototype as Michel/Fabian and then met our co-founder and CEO of the company Daniel Ospina who was working at The Fat Duck with Heston Blumenthal, working on innovation processes and design. We teamed up and decided to launch the spoon.
Why did you want to create a spoon that enhances flavour? Cutlery is pretty boring these days. The only other utensil that we put in our mouths is a toothbrush and a toothbrush is a personal thing that you wouldn't share with anyone else. Yet, when you go to a restaurant, those spoons and forks have been in the mouths of hundreds of people. For some reason, we find that normal.
Also, we previously published a paper showing how the weight of cutlery affects enjoyment of food but it's a field that's largely unexplored. This could have a huge impact in terms of making people eat more mindfully, more slowly, and eat less. We can change the way people approach the eating experience.
We eat every day, several times a day and I think people are more mindful about how they eat, when they eat, what they eat, and where it comes from. I think the technology of the utensils we use to interact with food has to be thought about as well and there's very little research in that field. There's a lot of work done on design in cutlery but it's mainly for aesthetic purposes.
Why is the spoon's design based on the shape of a finger? In our opinion, your hand is the best tool you have to eat with and it is one of the most pleasurable things to eat with your hands and fingers. Even licking a plate is pleasurable. But for some reason in the last century or so, table manners and etiquette have disconnected us from the pleasures of food. Our idea is to reconnect people with that sensuality of eating, but in an elegant way. Goûte is an extension of the finger, if you like.
Material also plays a big role and the glass is very sensual. It's a very soft experience on the lips and on the tongue.
What results have you seen from trials with the spoon? People have been much more mindful when they're eating. In terms of perception of food, we have some tests that show food might be perceived to be thicker. We don't know why exactly, maybe because people are paying more attention. Also even if people aren't given guidelines about how to use the spoon, they know how to use it instinctively and have a childish, joyful approach to it.
It's important for us that we have evidence so we're currently doing a research project funded by Buckinghamshire New University—Andreas' university—and with the Institut Paul Bocuse, the French cookery school I graduated from, to see how these Goûte spoons could change people's consumption behaviour and enjoyment.
The spoon's design means it's currently limited to use with creamy foods like spreads and yogurt. Do you plan to expand the range? Definitely, this is just the first that we've made commercially available. We're already working on several other prototypes but we haven't launched them yet. Our vision is to really shake up conventional cutlery and make it more playful and more engaging. There are quite a few ideas that we're working on at the moment.
Finally, do you use the spoon on a regular basis? Yes, certainly. I use it as a honey spoon at home. The conventional honey dipper design is very wasteful because honey gets trapped in the ridges. I try to eat with my hands as often as I can but I'll use the Goûte spoon when I'm eating yogurt in the morning and I always carry one with me. People think I'm a bit crazy that I carry my own prototypes with me!
Thanks for talking with me, Charles.