When I think of grated mountain yam (also known as “tororo”), my mind goes back eight years to when I first tried it in Japan. My great-aunt sent a large cardboard box from the countryside filled with potatoes, carrots, beans, a sack of rice wrapped in cloth, and mountain yams—all harvested that morning. My grandmother grated the tororo over a bowl until it was filled with the slimy, white paste, which we ate over rice. It was refreshing and bizarre—and so delicious that I became obsessed.
If you were to ask Tom Colicchio (renowned chef and celebrated judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef) what he thinks of grated mountain yam, he would picture the same bowl of slimy paste and cringe with disgust. In fact, that’s exactly what he did on Wednesday evening when Dr. David J. Linden asked if there was a specific texture in food that he couldn’t stand. Unfortunately, Colicchio did not elaborate on his memory of mountain yam; though it must have been pretty bad judging by the way he shuddered. We make associations with certain smells, textures, and tastes the first time we experience them, and these associations greatly affect the way we respond when we encounter them again, Dr. Linden said.
As the first event of the Rubin Museum’s eighth annual Brainwave series, the Top Chef and Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist paired up to discuss the importance of the basic five senses –including hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting—in the kitchen. They also discussed how genetics play a major role in the foods we favor or disdain, and why human evolution has changed the way our bodies react to certain flavors.
Tom Colicchio (left) speaking with David J. Linden (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.