Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ramblings on the experience of food -- its preparation, eating, & judging -- and technology

When Claudia and I went skiing earlier this year, we arrived at the Berkeley Ski Club lodge late in the afternoon to find the kitchen starting to fill with activity. "Join us for dinner," said Adrianne Parks almost immediately on behalf of a group of 8 which had made plans to jointly prepare and share the evening meal. And happily we did, joining in the food's preparation, followed by a wonderful, long meal complete with delightful conversation.

I love these kinds of experiences, as reflected in one of my first blog entries, though -- or perhaps "because" -- such experiences were rarely a part of my life until well into adulthood. My upbringing in the center of the U.S. (most often called "the midwest") meant that my participation in meal activity was for years largely limited to quietly eating tasteless food and drying dishes!

Now my experience of food includes shopping and talking food at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market nearly every Saturday, as I described in my reflections on the year 2006.

Indeed, we were there this morning. And when we were there last Saturday, we had the bonus experience of an appearance by Cat Cora in the Ferry Building's Book Passage to promote her new cookbook. I've often enjoyed watching Cat work her magic in competition with other chefs on the Food Network's Iron Chef America.

On Iron Chef America, after two competing chefs prepare 5 or 6 dishes -- each featuring and highlighting an ingredient kept secret until the competition begins, three judges taste the dishes and debate their quality, then rate each chef's output on taste (10 points), originality of the use of the secret ingredient (5), and plating (5).

Comparisons with analyses of user experience by people in the world of technology are interesting. For example, in Technology as Experience, McCarthy and Wright emphasize that user experience includes the emotional, intellectual, and sensual aspects of our interactions. All three of these aspects appear to be embedded in the Iron Chef America scales.

Another example: Mary Beth Raven claims that a world-class user experience has 4 parts: visual style, innovation, execution (defined as attention to detail, emphasis on delighting, and avoiding dissatisfaction), and usefulness. The first three clearly receive the attention of the Iron Chef America judges; I wonder whether the addition of a usefulness scale of some sort could make sense.

Cat, like the other competing chefs, cooks with 2 assistants on the show. Her unique punctuation on this process is the toast of ouzo they share at the end of the one hour permitted for cooking and plating. Perhaps the judges could also rate the teams on how well they worked together. Collaboration in the kitchen can be no less challenging than the workplace collaboration I've referenced in multiple blog entries.

Another type of "collaboration" featured on Iron Chef America is the judging, portions of which viewers get to watch. The interactions among the judges are often as entertaining as they are educational, since they, too, can be challenging, particularly when food columnist Jeffrey Steingarten is a judge.

Maybe Chef Anthony Bourdain will someday rate the judges like he recently rated some of the Iron Chefs and others who appear on the Food Network. Somehow, Cat Cora escaped Bourdain's attention in his no-holds-barred evaluations. I'd most look forward to reading his opinion of Jeffrey Steingarten!

Some analyses of user experience, such as David Sward's which is depicted in the nearby graphic (from the February 2007 Bringing the Voice of Employees into IT Decision Making), go well beyond the scope of the Iron Chef America scales. Which analysis of user experience would be most appropriate or beneficial in your world of work?

If you'd like to learn more about Iron Chef America, see Wikipedia's detailed description. Better yet, if you can, just watch the show!