Did you know that you only taste 5% of your food and the other 95% of the “flavor” is scent? I learned that puzzling fact at the “Scent Dinner” with Chandler Burr at the Four Seasons Hotel’s 11th World Gourmet Festival last night. As I already touched upon this event briefly in my previous post HERE, I will not go into great details about his background; instead I will try my best to let you experience last night’s dinner with me through my pictures and my (somewhat lacking) descriptions.
My family and I arrived early at the event; after registering, we were welcomed by free flowing Chandon’s bubbly. Needless to say that I liked how the evening was going already! After we waited for some other guests to arrive, did some PR interview, and took some pictures, we were seated at our table according to their seating chart. As we sat down, the anticipation grew higher since in front of us sat countless silverwares and wine glasses, beautifully arranged, ready for what is yet to come.
After all the guests got seated, Mr. Chandler did a brief introduction of himself. He told us about how he became interested in perfumes and scents due to a conversation he had with a total stranger that he sat next to on the Euro Star. And that he, practically, created the scent critic position at the NY Times for himself. After some background on himself, he explained to us that what this event is trying to achieve is introduce us to the idea of “gourmand scents” (or the smell of food) and “to translate scents into tastes.”
The scent dinner started off with Francis Coppola’s sauvignon blanc. As the servers pour the white wine into the carefully arranged glasses, another set of employees handed each guest a paper strip. We were instructed to bend the thin end of the paper and smell the very tip then guess. The first scent we encountered was very faint yet familiar. No one could guess what it was but then everyone nodded in agreement as he proceeded to enlighten us that it was the scent of butter (or the compound diacetyl to be precise.) After we smelled the butter, we were then given another strip with a toasted scent.
After smelling the smell of butter and the smell of toast, Chef Nicolas Schneller, Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, came out to explain to us our first course – “Bois Farine.” The chef incorporates those two scents in the French baguette, almond bread, bordier butter over toasted flour. We were also given a sample of raw dough to smell.
After our first course, this interaction of smelling, guessing, and learning repeated itself throughout the night. We were given the raw materials in perfume and shown the perfume itself before being presented the course that’s inspired by those scents. I will not bore you with the scientific names of each scent, if you are interested to learn more please leave a comment and I’ll forward you the information. For our second course, we got to smell mineral and freshly cut grass which inspire the perfume “Sel de Vetiver” by The Different Company which inspires the chef to prepare cerviche of tiger prawn on green and red takagi seaweed with a marinate of fish sauce, espelette syrup and honey pink peppercorn vinegrette (wow, that’s quite a mouthful!)
The next course was the most fun – we were given four scent strips, which I correctly guessed to be lime, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon. Mr. Burr then asked us to put the strips together and smell them. The scent was very familiar, yet I could not put my finger on a name. It was when someone shouted “coke” that a light bulb went off in my head. It smelled exactly like coke! Mr. Burr told us that without scents, coke would taste nasty. The only thing we would taste would be puckering sourness from the acid and extreme sweetness from all the sugar. Our intermezzo was coca-cola-inspired with variation of lime, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove sherbet on light coca cola jelly. We were instructed to dip our spoon into flavored salt before taking a bite from each cup. It was very refreshing and fun.
The next course was a drink inspired by the perfume “Light Blue” by Dolce and Gabbana. The Italian designers wanted to capture a scent of home and chose Sicilian lemon as a base note for their perfume. The chef created a fun little apple martini that tasted just like the green apple sugus candy.
Our fourth course is called “Dior and Hermes.” Thailand’s high quality ginger scent is used in “Dior Homme Sport” while carrot scent is used in Hermes’ “Jardin Sur Le Nil.” The chef translated these complex smells into a dish of ginger and green mango crusted scallops with carrots and light beurre blanc which was accompanied by a new wine – Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve 2008 Chardonnay.
Dior Addict was our fifth course. By this time my nose was no longer functioning properly from scent overload. My dad actually proceeded to shout cockroach as an answer after being handed a strip of tonka bean scent, which caused the room to bursted out with laughter and Mr.Burr to say “well, that’s a first.” This course was “sous-vide (YAY, My blog’s name!!!) turbot salsa of mandarin, young banana, buabok leaves, and tonka bean dressing.”
Our last savory course evolved around pepper –pink peppercorn from the ever famous Estee lauder’s “Pleasures” which translated into a dish of pink pepper crusted pigeon breast with dark black pepper sauce.
Mr. Burr then proceeded to hand us two strips –one of coconut and another of crushed aspirin. Interestingly enough, these two scents together smell like cheap chocolate. He then handed us another foul-scented strip of civet oil (extracted from a gland on it’s anus for that matter) and asked us to smell the three together and voila, just like magic, we got delicious strong, expensive chocolate aroma. Isn’t that just awesome? Our dessert was inspired by four perfumes Guerlain’s “Shalimar,” Missoni’s “Missoni,” Tom Ford’s “Black Orchid,” and Thierry Mugler’s “Angel.” Angel is the World’s best selling perfume, this 2 billion dollar baby contains cotton candy molecules which is very suitable as our dessert. So for dessert, we had “planter chocolate ganache, golden vanilla with candied coconut accompanied by a bowl of cotton candy granite and chocolate yolk served fuming in dry ice.
Three hours and a partially destroyed scent of smell later, I must say I left hungry for more food (the con of being a non-marine-animal-eater) but full with knowledge. The dinner was very educational and informative without being boring. Although I found it rather difficult to see a very strong correlation between the scents and the dish (apart from what’s written on the menu,) I thoroughly had a good time. The service was exceptional as usual and the three Californian wines we had were all fabulously refreshing and easy to drink. After all, a night well spent and my foodie’s thirst for knowledge quenched.