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Cacao in E Major: An Immersive Symphony of Chocolate Synethesia

An all-five-senses feast from composer and chef Ysanne Spevack

by David Graver
on 22 September 2016

There's a tangible link between a great meal and the sensation of happiness. We are all aware of this. But what can one expect from a feast, or more accurately a food experience, dedicated to stimulating cross-modal happiness first and foremost? That's exactly what composer and chef Ysanne Spevack has in store for tonight's "Cacao in E Major." Attendee biometrics will be gaged by NYU neuroscientist Denis Pelli and ING66 technology, throughout the five-course, five-sense-stimulating performance. But when one looks at the independent elements comprising the evening, one makes note of the great awareness and attention to detail Spevack will set into motion. Chocolate plays a dominant role, but it is not the sole stimulation. Music (specifically the note of E Major) and color (yellow, for good reason) play their role within a "five verses" feast. This is the inaugural event in Spevack's YNTEGRITY project—and as Spevack has been a touring and recording violinist for The Smashing Pumpkins, it will also feature one unreleased song by Billy Corgan.

"This is a sketch of a much bigger idea that I've been developing over two years," Spevack explains to CH. "It's bigger than chocolate and happiness, but I felt that was a very good place to start." Cacao-infusions factor heavily into the dinner, but that's not all. Aside from bee products, the entire ethically-sourced meal is plant-based, with one surprise: electrolyzed 24-karat gold. The chocolate is heirloom single-estate raw cacao. It's different than that used in candy bars. It's the least bred and as close to the natural strain as possible, hailing from Ecuador. It makes sense that The Alchemist's Kitchen plays host to the dinner, as they've built a reputation for being a refined botanical dispensary. But this event is about synesthesia and the other four senses weaving together.

The word symphony mustn't be taken lightly either. "Beethoven wrote 'Ode to Joy' in E Major. He thought it was the happiest of keys. A bunch of clever people in the past agreed," Spevack explains. "It is only recently that we've had neuroscientists prove that yes, this is the happiest. The brain will react in ways we cannot see," she adds. The music presented during the feast incorporates E Major. And while guests dine, Spevack's “The Conscious Chorus,” will be played for those in attendance. As for the Corgan track, it's a stripped-down guitar and saxophone song recorded in 2009—another treat for sure.

Beyond the visual presentation of the food, the sense of sight will be toyed with by way of the color yellow. Not just any yellow, but INT-O Yellow, or International Optimism Yellow. This color was developed by Spevack collaborator conceptual artist Uncle Riley and Pantone. Again, many scientists have spoken out about the positive impact of the color yellow—and this particular iteration will stimulate. It's featured prominently in Uncle Riley's art, which will actually be available at a silent auction at the start of the event (during the cocktail reception).

The event is about happiness... For us to be happy in the room, we need to create happiness outside of the room

There's also an element to the affair that extends to those not in attendance. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to iFred, the Foundation for Research and Education on Depression. "The event is about happiness. It is an experience to promote feelings of happiness. For us to be happy in the room, we need to create happiness outside of the room," Spevack says. "One of the ways neuroscientists agree that we create happiness is by doing so for others. It creates personal happiness for us when we give and we care for others." It's a "lovely feedback loop," she adds.

And then, how does one quantify happiness? How does one visualize happiness? Spevack has incorporated Guillermo Acevedo's interactive ING66 technology and the Sensemo app. Pelli will be providing direct feedback. And while we acknowledge most people do not need to be told they are happy, the technology allows users to pinpoint what they believe they're deriving the most pleasure from. If one is lucky, Spevack explains, there will be a cross-pollination and guests might not be able to pin-point the exact source of their stimulation. With the implication that scent will be related to the taste-stimulating items, one sense remains to be addressed: touch. Guests do have to consent to being lightly touched. We do know that means by those who will be monitoring the wearable technology, but it's also been hinted at that people will be hand-fed in certain instances. Altogether, this is clearly the first of its kind.

Tickets are still available for "Cacao in E Major," for the experience with alcohol ($150) and without ($125). The Alchemist's Kitchen is located at 21 East 1st St, New York City.

Food images by G. Riley Johndonnell, all other images courtesy of YNTEGRITY Project

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