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What makes a meal tick?
Monday, 26 January, 2009, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
A centre in France will analyse eating patterns to find out what brings diners pleasure. Plus, eat right tips

A pioneering research centre has opened in France recently in an attempt to answer questions that have haunted cooks for centuries-What makes a good meal and how can we make children eat their vegetables? The project, which has an official stamp of approval from the French government, aims to provide what may be the first-ever objective of diners' likes and dislikes. The ultra-modern centre created by Paul Bocuse, France's greatest chef, will try to find out how taste, smell, décor, waiters, conversation and other factors affect the pleasure of food. The upshot should be a theory of eating to help all professional cooks.

Herve Fleury, the director of the Paul Bocuse Institute near Lyons, where the centre is based, said: "The research will focus on man's behaviour with food and his relationship to taste, pleasure, finance, health and well-being."

In the kitchens, chefs will experiment with futuristic technology that can cut cooking times by half and enable boiling-hot food to be frozen in five minutes. Diners will serve as guinea pigs in the 100 sq metre (1,080 sq ft) eating area, which can be modified to resemble a brasserie, high-class restaurant or canteen. Their behaviour will be observed in an attempt to discover why they finish some dishes and leave others; why they chat happily or sit in silence; and whether the service welcome or irritating.

Cameras will film their reactions as they consume their food; microphones will record their conversations, and sociologists, nutritionists, linguists, marketing experts and other researchers will use the material for Master's degrees produced in collaboration with French universities. Five theses have already been accepted. They are on the language and gestures of waiters; how restaurant decoration and seating arrangements impact diners; how to persuade children to eat vegetables; and what makes customers decide they are full (or experiencing specific sensorial satiety, to use the technical term).

Bocuse, 82, whose restaurant near Lyons has had three Michelin stars since 1965, said the centre would help gastronomy to move with the times. "There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world," he said.

Martin Laville, professor of nutrition at Lyons University, said that the centre could help nutritionists to discover why adolescents preferred, for example, chips to broccoli, by looking at the "codes of pleasure." Other chefs were skeptical. Jean-Pierre Hoquet, chef at the legendary Train Bleu restaurant in Paris, said, "I don't think you can put the soul of a restaurant into a formal academic paper. It's intangible and it depends on so many different things."

-- The Times, London
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