Crunching census data creates coded chocolate that’s a true taste of Sydney

(Supplied: Jenifer Lo) ABC Radio Sydney

By Harriet Tatham


July 28, 2018 10:28:01

Jenifer Lo helped crunch census data and bring Sydney’s ancestries to people’s tastebuds.
“I think it’s so cool to have a physical representation of greater Sydney,” she said. For the past year, Sydney data visualiser Jack Zhao has worked with chocolatier Jenifer Lo to embed Sydney’s ancestries into small chocolate squares. The project, titled Not a Single Origin, began when Mr Zhao decided he wanted to use his skills to communicate across a different medium.”We’ve always worked with data; trying to use data to tell stories about people, about places, and we produced many projects that did this, but only on screens, mobile devices and on paper,” he said. (Supplied: Jenifer Lo) “There was a motivation to go beyond the pixels and use a different medium to communicate, to tell the stories about people of Australia using data.”

The 12 chocolates were designed to tell a story about Sydney’s multicultural groups. Photo:
Jenifer Lo made the career change from designer to chocolatier around two-and-a-half years ago. (Supplied: Hilary Cam Photography)
With this in mind, Mr Zhao approached Ms Lo, a designer-cum-Instagram-famous baker and chocolatier. “With Italy, we had strawberry, balsamic and liquorice. A collaboration between a coder and a chocolatier has confirmed that life really is like a box of chocolates. to draw local streets from each suburb to the surface of the chocolate.” Ms Lo said visualising the suburbs enabled a conversation to emerge about Sydney’s makeup. “For me, I was never familiar with those cuisines, so that was very interesting, finding out that almond and orange were quite predominant in their culture and desserts.”

The chocolates were validated by focus groups asked if they could associate the tastes with the corresponding ancestries. “We had ones that were a little bit more challenging like Malta and Macedonia. While both knew the project wouldn’t be profitable with plans to manufacture no more than 50 boxes of chocolate, Ms Lo said she was unable to resist the opportunity to combine code and confectionary. (Supplied: Not A Single Origin)
What do Sydney’s suburbs look like?With the flavours set, the final step for the team was to create moulds that would enable those eating the chocolate to visualise the suburbs. “It starts a discussion, which I think is really interesting: What would our suburb taste like?”While the 50 boxes of chocolate have already been sold, Mr Zhao said the team would consider a second run. “The whole intention of the project is to use something tangible and edible to communicate data, to help people visualise what their city is like,” Mr Zhao said.”Taste alone is not enough and we wanted something tactile, so that’s where the 3D printing came to the project … “We looked into the different ethnicities and the predominant flavours in each of those countries, what were the most commonly used ingredients, what were natives to those countries, and then found ways to pair those with chocolate that were very complementary,” she said. The sweetest suburbsWestmead (Indian) — cardamom, coconut, cashewConcord (Italian) — strawberry, balsamic, caramel, orelysEarlwood (Greek) — ouzo, lemon, aniseGreenacre (Lebanese) — date, rosewater, pistachioHurstville (Chinese) — red bean, coconut, mandarinLondonderry (Maltese) — orange, cinnamon, almondManly (Scottish) — scotch whisky, toffeeMosman (English) — marmalade, almondRandwick (Irish) — Baileys, coffee, honeycombRooty Hill (Filipino) — taro, coconut, sesameBanksia (Macedonian) — honey, peach, rhubarbCabramatta (Vietnamese) — caramel, banana, coffee, peanut
Sydney’s ancestriesThe first step of the project for Mr Zhao and his team was to decide which data they were going to visualise.”Through our work we’re very familiar with census data, and the 2016 data has just been released,” he said. Photo:
Jack Zhao, director of Small Multiples, works to tell stories with data. (ABC Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
What does ancestry taste like?With the 12 ancestries and suburbs confirmed, Ms Lo was then brought in to help establish which flavours could be used in each chocolate. “We decided to look at ancestry, instead of languages or country of birth, because we think ancestry speaks more of where you are.”So the team downloaded the Bureau of Statistics data, created a formula, and then generated a list of the most representative ancestries for the greater Sydney area.”With yet another formula, suburbs were ranked on their weighted ancestry value and the first 12 were selected.
Sydney 2000