Chef Nick Brune introduces his escoviche. It’s fishy, not in taste, but appearance. Full-bodied pacific fish — soaked in acidic juices for likely days — face physical destruction upon the tables. Multiple spoons penetrate the skin easy as quenched lovers. The tender meat below is a chameleon for the juices it inhabited upon its expulsion from the ocean: poblano, anaheim chile, white wine vinegar. It all melts in the mouth in a chorus of stew-like texture.
On this Belize-themed night, sounds of the Caribbean kick in like a warm, summer breeze. The local San Diego band, Piracy Conspiracy, begins to play one of their songs, with which the escoviche was made to pair. This is SoundBite, a music and food pairing event which takes place in San Diego, California.
After the escoviche, an East Indian Curry, prepared by Brandon Brooks, with roasted carrot and sweet potatoes, habanero, and cassava strip puts on display the more global parts of Belizean cuisine. Although a dish from the Indian Subcontinent, a drier curry is a staple of parts of Belize. Lhasa Landry then presents her Caribbean Seafood Stew, with spicy chile, limes and coconut. Brune’s “Two Hearts Divided”—smoky jerk, cabbage, black eyed peas and rice—pairs with the song “Goodbye Lover”.
Born in Louisiana, Brune doesn’t like missing Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But, since moving to the west coast, he’s learned some coping mechanisms.
“I was eating crawfish once listening to Euphoria Brass Band and it made me think of being back in New Orleans,” Brune recounted genesis of the idea for SoundBite. “Food and music just kind of clicked, and I wanted to put something together.” Brune, raised in a family of chefs, believes taste and food can change experiences.
“The taste of food can change how you were feeling in a situation, which can change your entire experience at a meal,” he believes. Brune, unaware, tapped into something the highest echelons of academia and commerce explores.
Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford, is one of the leading researchers into what he terms “sonic seasonings.” His research focuses on the interplay between taste and pitch.
“We’re looking more at how you can bring out spiciness, sweetness, sourness, salty or bitter through the music or soundscapes that you play,” the Oxford scientist told MERRY JANE. “We play the matching music so it can accentuate the spicy, the sweet, the sour, the umami or some sort of fruit or citrus flavor notes.”
Salty foods adorned the plates of the dishes at the Belize inspired SoundBite. Spence informs me, it’s been one of the hardest tastes to map: “At least in terms of finding music where you go, ‘Ah, yes, this is a salty one’ or when it is played, it can actually enhance how salty you perceive the food or drink you are tasting.”
Spence notes how personal, sentimental, and anecdotal connections might lead a person to make a musical association with certain foods: “This music means something to me, or this music is associated with the region where a dish originates,” he said.
SoundBite exemplifies this.
“It’s not just food and music — Italian food with Italian music or whatever,” Brune told MERRY JANE. “Each chef gets two tracks, and we listen to it over-and-over. We figure out what the track means to us, and we create dishes based off that.” Brune recalls one of his first dishes inspired by music.
“There was a track about solitude. I prepared an octopus dish because they live by themselves their whole lives,” he remembered.