The Chef & The Scientist: Oxford University Psychologist Joins Experimental Chef to Solve World’s Growing Health Issues Using Multisensory Gastronomy

Experimental Psychologist Charles Spence has joined Chef Jozef Youssef’s gastronomic research lab ‘Kitchen Theory’ to help solve worldwide health issues using multisensory research. 

One of Oxford University’s most renowned experimental psychologists, Charles Spence has teamed up with pioneering chef, Jozef Youssef and his project ‘Kitchen Theory’ in a bid to tackle world health issues. Combining Professor Spence’s multi-sensory research with Youssef’s research on gastronomy, the gastro-neophiles believe that they can help solve ever growing world health concerns.

Thanks to Youssef’s experimental kitchen, the pair have a growing knowledge of how humans understand, interact and relate to food - which they believe will allow them to guide people towards making more nutritious and sustainable choices.

Spence said, “Youssef and I firmly believe that gastronomy can help towards solving a number of world health issues through understanding food perceptions. As humans we have an almost synesthetic approach to food and taste associations; red is sweet and green is sour or bitter. We have used this as the basis for our research, and the results are delicious.

“Research conducted in partnership with Ferran Adria’s Alicia foundation found that the colour and shape of the plates we eat from can affect our perception of the flavours of a food. For example, strawberry mousse served on a white plate was perceived as sweeter than the same mousse served on a black plate.

“The research with the Alicia foundation brings about the question of whether it would be possible to reduce the amount of sugar in a dish or food product simply by changing the colour of the food or its packaging. This encourages consumers to believe they are enjoying the same level of sweetness without adding high levels of sugar in foods.”

Perceptions of food can change the way consumers taste their dishes. Tactile stimulation in the hand can alter the way foods feel in the mouth; soft textures like silk or velvet often bringing out sweeter, creamier notes while rougher textures like sandpaper tend to bring out salty or bitter notes. This allows the team to tackle one of their biggest concerns – high sodium content in food. The discovery that rougher textures bring out the saltiness in a dish, has led the team to conclude that eating with a slightly grainy textured spoon may allow salt content to be reduced, without altering the overall taste of a dish.

During their research, Spence and Youssef have also channelled their energies towards entomophagy (eating insects) in an effort to find ways of making insects more appealing. This followed a United Nations F.A.O. 2013 report found insects to be healthy and highly sustainable sources of protein as an alternative to intensive animal farming. The duo tackled the taboo earlier this year by serving up a specially developed worm butter, which they served to Kitchen Theory guests. Butter was the chosen base product for the experience, as it is a food they knew their guests would be familiar with. It is creamy and fatty (tastes that humans generally like) and allowed the insects to be presented out of their natural form. The worm butter proved more popular than normal butter – and was eaten by a large number of vegetarians.

Food fanatics can experience Kitchen Theory’s experimental dining events for themselves, the concept changing twice a year. Each event it aimed at offering delicious modernist dishes and an experience, which is fun, educational and multisensory. The chef and the scientist will dedicate the remainder of the year to their ‘Gastrophysics manifesto’, which will focus on the science of multisensory dining. All their research and findings will be channelled into the next dining concept, ‘Mexico by Kitchen Theory’ – a modern, multisensory interpretation of Mexican cuisine and art and culture, coming in September.

Youssef added, “It is a really exciting time for us at Kitchen Theory. Our work is showing just how big a role our minds play in the food we eat, and we are helping address this with our experimental work – it truly is mind over matter.”

To find out more about Kitchen Theory visit the website at:

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Kitchen Theory

Contact: Lulu Youssef



Kitchen Theory is a collaborative gastronomic project founded by Jozef Youssef who has worked at the Fat Duck, Helene Darroze at The Connaught, The Dorchester Hotel and is also the author of Molecular Gastronomy at Home. Kitchen Theory began as a website aimed at sharing knowledge in the field of gastronomy covering topics such as food science, food culture, food history, multisensory flavour perception, neurogastronomy and molecular gastronomy which has now manifested into experimental dinners, workshops and guest talks.