Friday, April 4, 2014

RadioMilwaukee's SoundBites Fundraiser Paired Exquisite Food with Tasteful Music

By Evan Rytlewski
radiomilwaukee soundbites iron horse hotel
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It’s not exactly news that sound shapes the way we perceive food. Restaurant owners have long understood that ambiance, including acoustics, can have nearly as much impact on the dining experience as food itself. Mostly the effect was thought to be psychological—when diners are in a good mood, they’re more likely to enjoy food and wine and everything in general—but recently researchers have discovered there’s a physiological component as well. A recent study, for instance, found that high frequency sounds can make food seem sweeter, while low frequencies accentuate bitterness. Sound, it turns out, may be more central to the dining experience than even the most attuned restaurateurs ever realized.

The interplay between sound and taste is the concept behind 88Nine RadioMilwaukee’s annual SoundBites fundraiser, which on paper reads like a very high-end science experiment. At Thursday’s event at the Iron Horse Hotel, diners were invited to sample offerings from 13 prestigious area chefs, whose dishes were paired with a song selected by station DJs and “guest musicologists.” Each guest was greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne and a pair of headphones for plugging into the mp3 players at each tasting station, leaving them free to sample the plates with and without the music.

So did the music change the way the food tasted? Not really, but it did make the experience a lot more fun. For every musicologist who invested great thought into their song selection—like Tarik Moody, who soundtracked Pabst Theater chef Kevin Sloan’s deconstructed island club with coconut milk braised goat leg, smoked ham, sweet plantain and jicama relish and mint-jalapeno aioli to Nick Mulvey’s “Cucurucu” because “the song starts off slow like the way you would prepare smoked ham and a braised leg of goat”—there were as many who goofed around a bit with theirs. Several song selections were simply plays on words of dish ingredients. For Braise chef David Swanson’s glazed rutabaga arancini with sorrel dressing and pepper jam, DJ Dori Zori selected Newcleus’s “Jam on It,” because jam. DJ Kat Froehlich, meanwhile, also went the pun route, pairing Smyth chef Bradford Shovlin’s citrus-glazed beets with The Whispers’ boogie standard “And the Beat Goes On,” lighting up when tasters figured out the joke.

The food was, without exception, phenomenal, and some dishes were genuinely accentuated by their musical accompaniment. Field Report’s Christopher Porterfield paired Juniper 61 chef Darin Yenter’s savory acorn squash with aged cheddar ravioli, a dish that evokes autumn in the best way possible, with Yo La Tengo’s similarly comforting, similarly autumnal “You Can Have it All.” And DJ Jordan Lee accompanied Noble owner David Kressin’s backyard pork pie with piccalilli, an upscale reimagining of summer grill-out food, with a chaser of cheap beer and the carefree tailgate rock of Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” These pairings excelled because the food and music worked in concert to convey a specific sense of time and place, but even the night’s more arbitrary pairings left nothing to complain about. Great food, it turns out, tastes great no matter what you listen to while eating it.  
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