A sous chef was searing a large piece of meat encrusted in salt, pepper and herbs in preparation for a party. My nose took notice. Being the ever-diligent chef, I touched the meat to check its cooking, and then reflexively tasted. The smell had been terrific, the taste even better. A tiny sample of juices, herb essence and fat is all you need.
During a cheese class last summer, the first hour was spent simply inhaling aromas and tasting tiny samples, allowing the cheese to melt on the tongue so that the flavors could truly develop. Chocolate, too, should not be chewed quickly. Take time and let it melt. Savor the richness and complexity of flavor.
In almost every cooking class a discussion of taste arises. Some of the new chefs who specialize in molecular gastronomy and the 30-plate meals believe one taste is enough. I’ve not had that experience. My food world says that if one taste is good then several might be better. Our palates are complex, but our sense of smell is primitive. When food hits the tongue, taste takes a direct route to the brain, and the computer kicks in and tells us if the smell and taste are balanced. In other words, does it taste just like it smells?
If the food lacks salt, the taste will seem flat, perhaps non-existent. The sense of sour and bitter are pleasant to some, but not to others. We all love sweet, some more than others. Salt is the key in this balancing act. Each of us has his or her own level of salt preference. I try to taste with my sous chefs to calibrate our salt taste buds.
Some of our smell preferences go back to the days of foraging, when we instinctively avoided noxious foods in order to survive.
In my food world cooking is about developing taste. Whether through seasoning, adding a unique culinary twist or simply by perfect technique, optimal taste is the goal. It does not have to be difficult. A perfectly sautéed piece of fish with lemon can be as good as it gets. Remember the opening scene in Julie and Julia? Julia Child was swooning over a perfectly prepared sole meuniere. I love to walk through the kitchen and smell. The aromas of the bakery are also special. Chocolate cooking creates a very rich perfume. Caramelizing onions and vegetables is another facet, and meat and sautéed fish yet another. If I could live off of the aromas, weight would not be an issue. Years ago, we had a steak that was glazed with Gorgonzola Dolce. The tables by the kitchen complained so vocally of the foul aroma as the servers walked by that we took the item off the menu. Taste and smell are often the first step toward a great culinary experience. I’ll see you soon and let’s see what aromas are wafting throughout the Ridgway dining room!