Food, passion and memories
Jessica Meredith popped the olive into her mouth and her mind reeled.
Lisbon’s Belcanto wasn’t her first two-star Michelin experience, but it’s one she will always remember.
“The olives were injected with martini juice,” she enthused. “I wasn’t expecting them to explode on my tongue. My brain was working overtime to figure out what I had just eaten.”
The foie gras was similarly impressive, presented as if a Ferrero Rocher chocolate with hazelnuts and a gold-leaf candy wrapper. “It was another total brain stumper because I expected it to be sweet!”
The experience triggered an interest in food science and how flavour perceptions are impacted by memory.
“I took to Google to learn more,” she said. “I always loved science as a kid. I love biology and psychology. I’m a compulsive researcher.”
Among her findings, some of which she shared at a PechaKucha talk at Spanish Point Boat Club this month, was that we rely on all our senses when we eat.
“We don’t just taste our food, we smell it, see it, touch it and hear it,” she said. “Does what you’re eating crunch?
“When we eat something, we are stimulating our frontal cortex and the part of the brain sending positive or negative messages.”
Our reactions are often influenced by prior experiences.
“Whenever I have a bad day, I buy a pint of raspberries,” she said. “By the time I get to the bottom, I always start to feel better, even if the raspberries did cost $8.”
The fruit bring back memories of idyllic family vacations.
“Picking berries was just a beautifully simple pastime,” she said. “Now when I eat raspberries I get that similar simple satisfaction.”
She acknowledged it’s not always easy to remember what’s causing a like or dislike. The 27-year-old has no idea why she doesn’t like horseradish.
“That’s about the only thing I won’t eat,” she said. “The trauma behind that one is probably long suppressed. I don’t know why I hate it. Maybe one day as a kid I stuck my spoon in the jar and pulled out too much.”
She started baking at 6 years old after she was given a kids’ book of cookies recipes.
She made chocolate chip, oatmeal and drop cookies before her mother begged her to stop; she was making her father fat.
A year later, she moved on to dinner.
“It was a soup with a crusty bread,” she said. “I have no idea whether it tasted good. I hoped so. My mother was really good and just let me use the stove and experiment.”
She considered culinary school, but chose marketing instead. “I have toyed with the idea of opening a restaurant for years and years,” said Ms Meredith, who will join the staff at Rego Sotheby’s International Realty on Monday. “But for the moment, cooking is just a passion. It gives me an excuse to get friends together and enjoy myself.”
Whenever she throws a dinner party, she thinks about the memories she’s making.
Her goal is always to not only make sure the food tastes good, but that it also looks, smells and sounds appealing.
The ambience of the room is also important.
“In the Western world we move so fast,” she said. “It is so much easier to jump in your car and grab a hamburger and hit the road and eat it.
“Food needs to be appreciated. It needs to be eaten by people who appreciate it and appreciate you. That is my whole mantra. I want to share it with other people and make it a really memorable experience.”
She likes to joke that flapping her gums is her form of exercise.
As such, PechaKucha was right up her alley although she never thought she’d take on food as a topic.
“I always thought I’d talk about the ocean,” Ms Meredith said. “I am very interested in that. I thought I’d talk about seahorses or cephalopods.”
A visit to Alinea this year changed her mind.
She learnt about Chicago’s three-star Michelin while watching Chef’s Table on Netflix, and had to experience it for herself.
She and her boyfriend, Darryl van Heerden, had been talking about a taking a vacation anyway, so they booked a trip.
“There were some things we wanted to do in Chicago, but we went primarily for Alinea,” she said. “I had to book a table there six weeks in advance. I had to be very organised about it.”
The couple were served about 20 courses that evening, but what Ms Meredith remembers most is the bowl of salt waiters set on fire at her table.
“There were lavender leaves on top of the salt,” she said. “That created a beautiful smell. And after the next course, they dug out potatoes that had been cooking in the salt.”
She’d taken a risk by planning an entire vacation around one expensive restaurant; meals range from $190 to $395 per person, not including wine and gratuities.
“It was worth it, though,” Ms Meredith said. “It was a phenomenal experience.”
Jessica Meredith on food
Jessica Meredith is a Bermudian who loves great food. Below, some of her hits and misses:
Favourite restaurants in Bermuda: Bolero and Mad Hatter’s because of their “creativity”.
Favourite places for pizza: Sol Verde and Rustico.
Biggest cooking blunder: Trying to make gnocchi in summer in Bermuda with no air conditioning.
“After that I made it in every flavour I could think of with the air conditioning cranked up, just to reassure myself that I’d conquered it.”
Favourite family tradition: Eggs Benedict on Christmas morning.
“Nobody should fear eggs Benedict. It just takes commitment.”