Quick Read: Cooking up amazing food and language translation could have something in common. Isomorphism.
Chef David Chang – the famed American restaurateur who owns the Momofuku restaurant group shares a great insight on what characterises amazing food.
When you eat something amazing, you don’t just respond to the dish in front of you; you are almost always transported back to another moment in your life.
He believes that food – like fragrances – has a set of ‘base patterns’ that people inherently respond to. So, as long as you can string together the required base patterns of any given dish- no matter what the ingredients are – you are sorted.
So the formula for a hit, according to him, is to strip a dish down to its component flavours, and re-compose the dish bottom up, by staying true to its constituent set of base patterns albeit with unexpected ingredients.
Think of it like making Bolognese, the Italian meat sauce but by using only Korean ingredients. (He calls it Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes, and when most people taste it, it reminds them—even on a subconscious level—of a spicier version of Bolognese.)
And that’s what makes his dishes the smash hits that they are.
He calls it his Unified Theory of Deliciousness.
(Source: WIRED, August 2016)
Featured as the cover story in this August edition of WIRED, David Chang’s give away is his insight into base patterns and how they constitute the building blocks of any given dish from around the world.
He draws parallels to the concept of isomorphisms – concepts that can be expressed in different ways while retaining their core form.
That’s how I feel about food. Different cultures may use different media to express those base patterns—with different ingredients, for instance, depending on what’s available. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.
They are fundamentally playing the same music. And if you can recognise that music, you’ll blow people’s minds with a paradox they can taste: the new and the familiar woven together in a strange loop.
Now think of the concept of isomorphism for a moment.
It occurs to me that languages are perhaps the best examples of isomorphism.
Different cultures may use different expressions to communicate their ‘base patterns’—with different words, phrases and idioms, depending on what their language is. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.
So a software that powers a good language translator has to be able to strip down a sentence according to it’s language’s base patterns and be able to construct them back in the other language for the user to be able to appreciate the original meaning.
Almost like how David Chang believes his hit dishes should be made of.
(Incidentally, Google Translate paired up with some amazing food earlier this year.
In April Google opened Small World, a curious pop-up restaurant in NYC with celebrity chefs like Danny Bowien, Eina Admony and JJ Johnson.
But, there was one catch: diners could only order their food using Google Translate. This recent video captures the essence of the campaign.
This short film documenting the restaurant’s run, “#EveryoneSpeaksFood,” was directed by Josh Nussbaum.)
(Featured Image: Momofuku Ssam Bar’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – the spicier version of Bolognese made from all Korean ingredients)