NutriFit Executive Sous Chef Oscar Gonzalez has a favorite saying, “First, you eat with your eyes. Then, your nose. Finally, your mouth.” This month’s tasting event, “The August Bloom”, brings to the table your sense of smell in a ground-breaking new way, through the use of ‘aromatic mists’. These mists capture the essence of a smell, for example orange blossoms, lemon thyme, or lavender, and adds them to a dish. This application creates an incredible new flavor profile that we were astonished to discover, transporting the diner out of the range of what they thought flavor could be. But why would these mists be so powerful, and why would a chef choose to highlight or add them to a dish?
We all can think of the power of aroma in defining a great meal. Close your eyes and think back to a time you were brought joy by not the taste of food, but the smell. Perhaps it was waking up to the savory scent of a delicious breakfast wafting in from another room, or coming home and the house filled with the aroma of your favorite dinner dish. This is the power of smell in cooking. It overwhelms, it makes us stop in a way the other senses simply do not. And there is a scientific reason for this. The sensation of smell is activated as odor molecules travel through the air and into the nasal cavity, where they come into contact with olfactory receptors which directly transmits, through the olfactory nerve, a message to your brain. That direct brain connection is enough to create a powerful emotional reaction, but it doesn’t stop there. A retro-nasal cavity, packed with olfactory receptors, exists also in the back of your mouth, and odor continues to permeate from food to your brain even as you chew. The visceral ‘punch’ you get from a strong smell, be it good or bad, is due to this direct link between nose and brain.
This link was evolutionarily adaptive for our ancestors, as the ability to quickly recognize rotten food can mean the difference between life or death. The strong emotional reaction we get to bad smells evolved for this reason, and the joyful emotional experience from pleasing smells, such as those of a delicious meal or fragrant flowers, came along as part of the package. And this strong link to emotion is why smells can trigger memories so readily, and why food holds such meaning in culture. Flavor, the descriptive quality of food, is as much perceived through these olfactory receptors and a foods’ smell, as it is through your taste buds. It’s been said that 80% of flavor is actually smell, and anyone with a cold who has tried to enjoy their favorite dish and been disappointed can attest to this.
So, what happens when we begin to experiment with flavor not simply through taste, but through aroma as well? Chefs have, whether knowingly or not, been doing this since our ancestors first applied fire to meat in caves long ago. Just as you can change the taste of a food by applying heat in different ways to alter chemical reactions in the ingredients, (ie. Baking v. Frying v. Sous-vide), you can change the aroma. Certain aromas can be coaxed out of, or even applied separately, to different dishes which in turn effects the flavor in a way that can surprise and bring joy in ways never thought of before. For example, a lavender aroma, or mist, can be created and captured by pushing hot air over lavender petals at a controlled temperature, pressure and duration. This mist, when applied to our decadent chocolate Organic Beauty Bites, adds an entirely new experience to this dish. Suddenly you are no longer eating this sumptuous chocolate delight in your home, but in a field of blooming lavender in the rolling hills of Provence in springtime, relaxing amongst the petals as a cool breeze surrounds you.
By highlighting and challenging your flavor perceptions with aromas, we hope to create an experience that is completely unique, one that transports you and blooms within the mind. Join us on this culinary and perceptual journey at our virtual tasting event this Friday, August 28th, and experience flavor in a way you never thought possible.
Full menu, information and tickets may be purchased here.