LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 14, 2019) — After three years in Lexington, the International Society of Neurogastronomy's (ISN) annual symposium is hitting the road for New Orleans, and the University of Kentucky's Bob Perry is its driver.
As program chair for ISN, Perry has carefully crafted an event that reflects "food meets science" for the lay public that explores what we eat, how we taste it, and why.
The symposium is a gathering of neurologists, chefs, psychologists, farmers and others who bring many different points of view about how to enhance flavor perception.
"All foods have flavors," Perry said. "If you and I ate the same thing — I loved it and you hated it — that's actually created in the brain. Because we're eating the exact same food."
"Now, how the brain creates that taste is affected by numerous factors. How do you feel? Are you sick? Are you well? Do you have a history with this food that you either love or hate? Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Does the color of the plate matter? There are so many factors that are involved in Neurogastronomy. That's why it's such a fascinating subject."
Perry seems born to his role as ISN program chair. He's been a chef for more than 30 years and has been involved in many sustainable agriculture organizations. On any given day you can find him teaching in his campus kitchen in Erikson Hall, guiding students through the experience of running a restaurant at the Lemon Tree, or collaborating with colleagues in the College of Agriculture to improve the cultivation of ubatuba peppers to make them more suitable for commercial production.
Perry worked on the symposium's speaker order as a composer does a symphony, with the morning focused more on the physiology of flavor perception and the afternoon themed around the food side of things.
"When I design the speakers for a conference like this, I try to have continuity from start to the end," Perry said. "So our first speaker is Julie Menella of The Monell Chemical Senses Center, who will talk about neonatal taste development, how humans develop their taste in the womb."
"Following up on that, the Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center's Linda Barlow will talk about taste buds. So for instance, after chemo, or after even scalding your mouth on super-hot coffee, how your body regenerates those taste buds quickly."
In the afternoon, the focus will shift to the food side, with presentations by Harry Klee, a tomato geneticist from the University of Florida, and Stephen Jones, a wheat geneticist from the Bread Lab at Washington State University.
Pulling it all together is Rachel Herz, author of "Why We Eat What We Eat" and a leading expert in the psychological science of smell.
UK is the birthplace of the ISN, and so Kentucky is well-represented on the speaker roster by the likes of Bret Smith ("Does the Brain Control Metabolism or Vice-Versa?"), restaurateur and UK alum Ouita Michel, who will talk about feeding her mother through chemo, and Jane Bowie from Maker's Mark, who will talk about blending bourbons based on the flavors imparted by aging barrels.
There will again be an Iron Chef-like cook-off called the Gina Mullins Challenge, where teams of scientists and nationally-acclaimed chefs compete to prepare foods that address specific medical conditions and treatments, such as diabetes or chemotherapy. This year, Jehangir Mehta of NYC's Graffiti will lead a team against Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, MS.
After the symposium's conclusion there is a sensory dinner — five courses with wine pairings — introduced by chef Fred Morin of Montreal's Joe Beef with additional commentary by internationally-acclaimed sommelier Francois Chartier and a personal bourbon blending exercise by Bowie.
"By bringing these disparate yet connected fields together, we hope to find answers to problems like obesity, taste impairments due to chemotherapy, or famine — in loftier words, to enhance the quality of human life," Perry said. "And after all, doesn't food play such a huge role in that?"
For more information or to register for the symposium, go here.