People often ask us, “Why food”? Why do we spend the money we spend traveling the world going to fancy restaurants, or why on earth do we drive three hours to try a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint? The answer is both complex and simple. First and foremost, we love food. We love discovering new flavors, making connections with things we’ve tasted to dishes we’ve had in the past, and we love going to restaurants and feeling the vibe of the place.
But more than that, we love the experience of food. We love going to a restaurant and knowing that on that night, we’re one of the lucky people who are able to taste the food a chef prepares. It’s a completely unique sensory experience that can only be had in that place and time. We believe that food is one of the last, if not the last, great sensory experience in modern culture.
Humans long for experiences. Whether Greek Theatre in Athens or modern sports complexes and concert halls, people throughout history love to gather together at events. There is a certain badge of honor to say that you were at the Stanford Band Football Game or saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium, just as it was back in Roman times when you saw a great gladiator fight.
All of these events happened before the advent of social media, high definition TVs, or the internet, and the truth is that the traditional forms of entertainment have lost a unique aura about them. There is nothing unique that can happen now that isn’t shared on Twitter in fewer than two minutes, whether it’s a highlight dunk in a basketball game, or a crazy set by Kanye West. Is the experience we have watching on our phones the same as in person? No. But sometimes, the experience on the phone can be just as good, if not better. If you go to a basketball or football game, you’ll see a lot of people watching the big screen instead of the actual players. Big concerts focus more now on the visual effects than the music themselves. It’s a hard argument to make that what you experience at the Super Bowl in the upper deck is better than watching it on an 82-inch plasma TV.
Modern society has led to the democratization of sight and sound. These senses can be shared, liked, and retweeted, with the consumption being not vastly different than if the experience was happening live and in person. Yet, as humans, we still strive to find that unique, unequivocal experience that makes us feel special. This is where taste and food have come to the forefront for the millennial generation.
Taste is the last great sense that cannot be replicated by technology. Sure, you can see an Instagram picture of food, but you can’t taste the food through social media—at least not yet. It’s our senses that can still provide us an experience that is unique, yet sharable among friends. The best and most famous food destinations, whether they’re restaurants, stands, shacks, or carts, provide a person with a one-time-only taste of a particular food served on a particular day that is best shared communally. This experience cannot be replicated or duplicated, because each “performance” of a meal is different. Even if a dish is the same, the ingredients might be slightly different, the chef preparing it might be in a different mood, the weather outside could be different, the restaurant could have a new oven, etc. Not to mention that the eater could be in a different mood, their taste buds have changed, their palate widened, etc. That’s why you can go to the same restaurant two weeks in a row, order the same dishes, and have two different experiences.
Food requires time. Each meal is unique, yet what makes the meal different than a concert or sporting event is that the taste cannot be replicated or written down. Taste cannot be shared. And that’s what makes food and the restaurant experience magical and amazing. Our taste is the one thing that truly still relies on our own imagination and memory. It’s no longer necessary to remember a play, sporting event, or concert, because you can just watch or listen to it over and over again. Taste only lives in our mind, which makes the experience of tasting and connecting the dots of a taste memory that much richer and more rewarding. This is why some of our strongest and earliest memories are of food and meals, because our other memories have been replaced with pictures or video of the moment, and we remember those pictures and videos more than the events themselves.
Food also requires place. You have to go to a particular location to get the food you’re looking for, whether it’s grandma’s house or a backstreet in Tokyo. You can’t just order the duck from Eleven Madison Park in NYC and have it get delivered to your door, or if you did, it certainly isn’t going to taste good two days later. In this way, food is one of the great joys of travel that truly has to be experienced in the moment and cannot be brought back as a souvenir (yes, you can bring back that box of Belgian chocolates, but they are not going to last forever!).
When an activity requires time and place, you have the opportunity for a “wow” experience. Going to a fancy restaurant is always a crap shoot, because there are so many variables. However, when the timing is right, there is nothing more magical and exciting than a great meal.