Remembering Dinner & What We Ate

Dr. Paul RozinFor 25 years, Professor Paul Rozin’s research has focused on the nature of remembered pleasure — and — an astonishing diversity of other intriguing studies too.  He is professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania.

His son, Alexander “Lex”, Associate Professor of Music Theory, teaches at West Chester University School of Music.

Both are distinguished scholars. Both have earned Ph.Ds.

Both are dazzlingly brilliant and deliciously entertaining speakers.

At a recent talk, together at The Culinary Institute of America, they explored Informative Parallels Between Music & Food.

They asked a series of provocative questions:

  • Why do we eat what we eat?
  • What music should be played in a restaurant?
  • How do we view art?
  • How do we view the plate?

triangleAlex Rozin then offered a unique perspective;

“In music there is a triangle with Composer. Performer. Listener.”

Paul Rozin responded: “In a restaurant there is also a triangle:

Farmer. Chef. Diner.”

A composer does not allow the performer to change his composition.

A farmer, by contrast, anticipates the chef will change his product — except if the chef is Thomas Keller, (and others in his culinary stratosphere). The exalted chef do not permit the staff to tinker with their ideas.

Furthermore, a music and a culinary composition follow patterns:




Musicians use the same chords over and over again whether they are playing classical music–Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or Hip Hop or Pop.

Chefs use the same foundation ingredients: onions, celery and carrots….

Chef Ann Rosenzweig

Chef Anne Rosenzweig

Chefs also play themes on variations i.e. four mini versions of crème caramel on the same plate at Le Bernardin.

This line of creative thinking can lead to another symmetry with a difference…for example. a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) could be bacon and lobster baked in a popover or as Chef Anne Rosenzweig interpreted it: lobster and sundried tomatoes enclosed in a brioche.

As the Rozins wryly observed: “It’s not what you steal (everyone steals) but what you steal and how you use what you stole.”

Exploring a different topic, Prof. Paul Rozin commented: “There are seven billion eaters but relatively few chefs. They aim to provide the best possible experience or best memory. It is interesting though, that the memory of the dinner may have little (or nothing) to do with the food.  Many say the best meal they ever had was…. an occasion or a place or shared with another person. The occasion is vividly recalled, but in the telling of it, there may be not a word about the food. It is the setting, the sounds, the light and other sensory feelings that continue to burn in the remembrance.”

Prof. Paul Rozin’s other remarkable discoveries are:

  •  The most memorable meals are those eaten at home.
  • Nutrition is rarely a factor in describing pleasure.
  • If the food IS mentioned, it is the entrée, not the dessert.  And the most frequently named food is steak.

So some people may return to a restaurant, eager to eat their favorite food again…and hope it will be the same every time while in contrast, others go to be surprised and delighted by something new.

The ultimate test is what was the eating experience — not what’s for dinner but  what will the diner remember?