Kitchen Sounds: The Orchestra of Cooking & Eating

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When we talk about food and cooking, we talk about senses.

Usually taste comes first, that one is easy. Smell is a close second, as it is a major neurological trigger to everything from memory and dreams to salivation and stomach groans. 

Then comes sight; spend thirty seconds on Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll see what I mean: we are obsessed with looking at food. From plastic California rolls in the windows of sushi bars and the sweet and savory pages of food magazines at the grocery checkout, to the simple sight of a pedestrian licking an ice cream cone, brushing your shoulder, inspiring a spontaneous purchase, the mere sight of food has a dramatic effect on us. 

Texture, sure, texture is important. It is often what dictates early in life what we love (potato chips! pudding!) to what we deplore (liver! okra!) and it is also what we use in the kitchen as a tool to determine doneness, so it is a very important tool to the cook who tastes as she goes. Does the risotto have that nutty bite yet? Are there lumps in the polenta? Does the cake tester come out clean?

Sound might be the last sense to come to mind when we talk about cooking and eating, but it’s probably one of the most dynamic.

This weekend I had the pleasure of hearing four of my food radio idols (see who they are and click on links to their shows below) present a panel about food radio at the IACP conference. I left excited about exploring the sounds of the kitchen and of the table. As a writer, I know that the more senses I use to experience the world, the richer it becomes, and that there are endless food sounds to take in, both in the kitchen as we cook and at the table as we eat. 

In the kitchen, it’s the gentle setting of onions in hot oil for a caramelizing bath, how they seize up in the oil and start their long hissing song. It’s the cracking of the skin of a roasting chicken and the way a stainless steel whisk bashes against a copper bowl full of cream. It’s the sound of my mother’s red-handled chef’s knife on her old butcher block, slicing through broccoli stems with a muted thud, and it’s my Irish grandmother’s tea kettle, loud enough so not just she, but the whole neighborhood, knew it was teatime. Some cook’s ears are so sensitive they use sound to tell if a dish is done. The famous chef and culinary instructor Jacques Pépin is said to be able to tell when a student’s piece of meat was over-cooked by listening to it sizzle in the pan from across a kitchen. 

At the table, there are a handful of acceptable sounds we might make out loud: the slurp of a Japanese noodle, a wine taster’s gurgle, or a baby who hums with pleasure as she eats. The sounds I find particularly exciting are the ones food makes in my own head. I create my own private music with the hollow crunch of a crispy romaine spine, or the dense grind of peanuts between my teeth. No shame.

Then there are the voices: the way we experience sound at every stage in between the kitchen and the table, as the sacred acts of cooking and eating inspire story-telling between friends, family, lovers, and strangers.

I want to record as many of these sounds as possible. There is a symphony in there somewhere. A vast treasure trove of food sound memories already exists in my brain, and I wonder if I could re-create them all. There is endless percussion, like the late night clank of gold-rimmed platters at Thanksgiving in a deep porcelain sink and that eye-opening toast between my first two high-quality wine glasses. 

What are some of the sounds of cooking and eating that you notice? Leave us some thoughts and then come back after you cook and/or eat a meal and share with us what you heard.

Check out these food radio luminaries and their shows:

(Image: Flickr member koocbor licensed under Creative Commons)