Trick Your Tastebuds with a Virtual Reality Dining Experience

Experience designer Jinsoo An is creating a "gastronomical virtuality experience" that provides the smells and tastes of lavish foods but substitutes them for a low-calorie nutritional concoction.

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Jan 9 2015, 3:00pm

Images courtesy the artist

Imagine craving a slice of pizza and instead of consulting your go-to food delivery app, grabbing a pair of virtual reality goggles and downloading the meal—directly from the web and into your face. This is the dream of experience designer Jinsoo An, whose creative mind has been developing a "gastronomical virtuality experience" called Project Nourished. The idea is to use immersive virtual reality and aromatics to make the brain believe it’s tasting a delicious, probably unhealthy snack, when in reality you’re actually eating a scientist-developed low-calorie combination of agar, konjac, and gum arabic.

While Project Nourished is still in its development phase, it’s an ambitious idea that pushes the existing boundaries of already fascinating virtual experiments like the multipurpose Museum of Stolen Art. Inspired in part by his father’s dietary struggles with a diabetes diagnosis, An aims to deliver a sense of culinary freedom to those with food limitations, or just those who want to lose a few pounds without sacrificing their guilty pleasures.

“The experience itself merges physical and virtual environments into one,” An tells The Creators Project. He goes on to describe his ideal vision for the future of this technology in detail:

So this is how we see it working in the future: Imagine you have diabetes and you're craving a slice of chocolate cake that could potentially kill you. So you decide to purchase and download a chocolate cake recipe from the VR food store via mobile app. Moments later, a 3D food printer begins printing the near-zero-calorie food that mimics the taste, smell and texture of a real chocolate cake. 3D printing is complete and you prepare your dining table so that the food is ready to be eaten. You put on your virtual reality headset and launch the VR food app. In the app, you're able to choose an environment that suits your needs—even the design of the utensils and plates you use. With excitement, you begin to eat the cake in both the physical world and virtual reality. As you are chewing, aromatic diffuser begins spraying mist that enhances the flavor.

The other inspiration An cites for Project Nourished is a scene from the 1991 film Hook, in which an aging Peter Pan (Robin Williams) learns to “make believe” a meal into existence. Thanks to developments in immersive virtual reality, it seems, we may be able to actually experience the same kind of eating experience, no extra imagination required.

The vision is a long way off, An admits. But in the meantime he's teamed up with a chef and a food scientist with plans to test the concept in a forthcoming multi-course tasting event. “The project is at early development stage,” he explains. “We decided to approach it that way since there are some obvious challenges in replicating the experience for a group of people. I bet this is how the inventors of molecular gastronomy felt when they first started experimenting.”

Aside from the novelty of exploring this untouched creative field, another perk that comes with virtual dining is virtual dining rooms, the first of which will be a futuristic vista An has designed called Neo Tokyo. “It's crazy how things are starting to come together—even though the idea seemed quite impossible at first,” he remarks. There’s still a long way to go, though, before the immersive gastronomical experience becomes a reality. An's current task involves designing a user interface that can imitate forks and chopsticks, just one of many challenges he's embracing with a full heart—and, we expect, a full stomach.

Visit the Project Nourished website to get more information as it develops, and check out An's other work here.

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