Caroline Hobkinson

CarolineHobkinson_F_03-e1352740827285Caroline Hobkinson curates food art events forcing diners to reassess the way they eat. Her blog – Stirring with Knives – looks at the world through food: Its history, the ritual how we eat it and the traditions how we prepare it. A focus is Experimental Dining Experiences working with food as an artistic medium, especially the ritual and spectacle of eating and food as performance and social commentary. She has been collaborating with Experimental Psychologist Professor Charles Spence, Head of the Cross modal Research Lab at Oxford University looking at how strong a role our senses play when we experience taste – and how we can use this to give us never before experienced taste sensations. The outcome was a five course multi-sensory menu titled ” Look, Listen, Smell, Touch, Eat! That was served up at the House of Wolf in 2012.

What have we to say about the future of dining practices? People are appreciating the intimacy of dining more and more. It’s a countertrend to the anonymity of Facebook, Twitter and the global super chains. We want hyper intimate ephemeral experiences that take us out of our comfort zone and challenge us more. Be it eating bread rolls suspending from helium balloons are spearing venison with tree branches.


Eating floating super crunchy bread rolls with earplugs. The crunch is internalized.

How best to intervene as chefs, technologists, artists, designers, philosophers, and diners? Customize the dining experiences and the tools, sounds, technologies and surroundings as one holistic entity rather than offering diners random gimmicks. The sound should be designed to enhance the taste sensations or be chosen  consciously to alter it. Eating from a brick should only be asked of the diner if that changes the taste sensation of the chicken on top or places it into a socio-cultural context.

What role can technology play (e.g., video, sound, e-ceramics) in enhancing our dining experiences? If technology is used in symbiosis with academic finding or artistic intuition it can restart people’s taste buds and make diners reassess the way they eat. But the designer, artist, chef, etc., should be aware of the subtle nuances of technology rather than just using it for shock tactics.

 How does it achieve this? Is it through association, multi sensory integration or other processes? Multi-sensory integration is a really important aspect of the dining experience. It is the most intimate way we interact with our environment -on all sensory levels.

 How can we change the context of how we experience food? Does it start in the anticipation of having a meal and extend to recalling the event to others afterwards? The recalling afterwards is what ephemeral dining experiences live on. My work only exists in the memory of the diners. The diners become performers in their own right. Anticipation in food and sex is quite similar. Lust and hunger.

Why do people flock to restaurants that offer something quirky, unusual, exquisite and playful? How do we get the right combination of mood, taste, ambience, conversation, and narrative for the dishes, menu of plates, etc.? We want to break out from the global homogeneous way of eating. We want an intimate, personal experience that can’t be repeated. We want to interact with the city we live in. We want to be challenged and entertained.

Why do we want to invoke food or other memories when eating? Why would we want to make taste like sound? When memories are invoked what do we do with them? Are they as involuntary as Proust said? Does that matter? Can we induce and trigger certain kinds of memories that linger? Taste is often acquired; it’s not the actual sensation of food coming into contact with our taste buds but how the context in which we experienced it in the past. We have acquired the taste of wine. Most people dislike the taste of wine. We need to train our taste buds. A good example is the birthday cake. The taste sensation we get from eating it is an ordinary over sweetened sponge but the eating of it is often a masterminded, choreographed, multi sensory dining experience. The anticipation. We only have one once a year. 100 % personal. Its baked especially for us. The light is dimmed. Candles are lit. The spectacle! One symbolising each year of our life. Now the chorus of happy birthday to you! Dear xxxx! We close our eyes, make a wish. blow out the fire. oh the smell of the smoky wax! All out the wish will come true! and the then we cut it and share it with everyone. Oh the sweet taste – how delicious!

Does knowing more about where your food has come from enhance the taste? It can go the other way. Knowing too much about the food can be of putting. It is no coincidence that most languages distinguish between beef and cow, pork and pig. Knowing the name of the animal about to be eaten scares people. I believe only people who are prepared to kill an animal should it it. The clinical detachment between meat and animal is dangerous.

How far should this go: to seeing videos of the animal before slaughtered, the fish swimming around, the vegetable growing in the soil; its ‘good’ value set – healthy, locally sourced, foraged, no animal produce; its ‘naughty’ ingredients – lots of cream, alcohol, etc. How does the interplay of increased knowledge impact on the diner experience?

Is it important for the diner to be creative in how they experience a meal, by reflecting on creativity that has gone into its inception and preparation by the chef and technologist? If so how can that be triggered? That knowledge really enhances the dining experience and make the diner re asses the way they eat.