Food and memory9 February 2018
Food and memory are inextricably linked. Alistair Day, executive chef at hospitality services provider Bennett Hay, examines how the close relationship between the two can be used to boost customer well-being, while improving the overall dining experience.
The ability to travel through time is, sadly, still a fantasy only possible in films and novels. Yet, through memory, we come close to fulfilling this dream.
Recollections enable us to transcend time and place, making our own personal history and geography.
Food and drink are strong triggers of deep-rooted memories so vivid that they transport you to wherever you were when you tried your first Battenberg cake (at your best friend’s sixth birthday party) or Barcardi Breezer (at your sixth-form prom).
Medical research has also proved the strong links between certain foods and their ability to improve your memory in order to fight brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As a chef who sees food as a tool to help people feel better, I have spent time working out ways to ensure that everyone eating my dishes gets the benefits they deserve.
Cooking in settings in which I often have to appeal to a broad range of tastes and consumers (I frequently work in multi-tenanted buildings), I aim to provide customers with a range of new and old culinary trends.
Keeping customers happy, and excited about our menu and the food we bring to the table, are things I strive for when thinking about new dishes to serve.
It is important to recognise that tastes vary across cultures, generations and social norms. Comfort food for a 55-year-old Brit will be drastically different from the childhood favourites of a Spanish millennial, for example.
Past decades have been characterised by different food trends and tastes: the 70s were dominated by things like peach Melba and quiche Lorraine; the 80s saw the rise in eating out and the 90s were marked by swanky salads and funky shaped foods.
Seasonally updated menus and little surprises here and there can go a long way towards keeping people satisfied with their everyday dining experiences.
When planning menus at Bennett Hay, I am also conscious of the fact that certain foods are better than others at improving memory and recall.
Much research has been conducted on the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables, with fewer meats and less fat. The diet adheres to the guidelines outlined by the NHS Eatwell guide, and has been found to be effective in fighting Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Foods rich in antioxidants, such as nuts and blueberries (purple-coloured fruits and vegetables are usually a safe bet), as well as those that increase the proteins in your brain (thereby protecting the brain cells from damage), such as salmon or eggs, are all effective memory-boosting foods.
Bennett Hay created a nutritional programme called Restore, which is founded upon scientific research. It is designed to support the well-being of customers and to educate them on the best foods for their health.
A big part of the programme is the ‘de-stress’ section that focuses on the benefits of eating foods packed with antioxidants.
This is as an exciting time to be involved in the catering industry, as research into the benefits of certain foods is now at the forefront of people’s minds.
Healthcare facilities and care homes are showing the way forward in their adoption of memory-boosting menus. The next step is to ensure that people are aware of the advantages of memory-boosting foods before they reach retirement age.
Integrating oily fish, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and adequate vitamins and minerals into diets can help prevent diseases that can come with old age. Cooking meals with these ingredients shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but rather as a great way to help people stay mentally and physically healthy.
The hospitality sector is in a powerful position to harness the memory-boosting aspects and nostalgic appeal of food in workplaces and on the high street.
People are open to trying new dishes and different flavours; there is a desire to relive the familiar flavours of our formative years at home, as well as the kaleidoscope of different foods that we have tried as we have travelled.
At Bennett Hay, that means catering teams incorporate hot international finger food into its weekly offering, through such concepts as a hot wrap station, carved hot sandwiches, and authentic specials that feature overseas foods ranging from tacos to steamed buns.
Finger food and wraps are simple ways to excite people about your products and introduce new flavours. Great comfort classics, such as macaroni cheese or chicken pie, will always have fans in workplace restaurants, providing they are served alongside appealingly modern choices with the power to make new memories.