Monday, April 06, 2009
Taste and smell
I have been thinking about questions involving taste and smell lately, as, recently, an offhand comment from a friend surprised me and got the cogwheels turning. I was talking about a dish I like – a foodstuff/aromatic pairing that was once (when Alain Senderens boldly used it a couple of decades ago) shocking and deliciously offbeat, but which has now become fairly standard: lobster with vanilla.
This friend recoiled. "I can't stand the taste of vanilla in savory foods. It reminds me too much of horrible overoaked Chardonnays."
Not only was my plan for a lobster bread pudding with vanilla sauce sent spiraling right down the drain, but the comment got me thinking. Does tasting and drinking wine transform our vision of food?
I know it transforms our way of smelling in the world. Sometimes when I walk out into the street, I am overwhelmed by one odor or another. I pick things apart. Leather from jackets hanging in front of a clothing store; roasting chickens with thyme and tarragon stuffed in them; and of course, the manifold unsavory scents we have to endure. There are places in the world, too, that smell corked. (I remember the unmistakable corkedness of a street off Leicester Square filling my nostrils in London last fall.) My nose is sharper than before I was interested in wine, obviously. Those muscles have been trained.
People are taught not to wear perfumes or use strong-smelling soap before tastings, but some wine geek friends eschew them always (well, maybe they're always drinking?).
But, getting back to tastes: I wonder if loving wine, and especially certain types of wine, has broadened my palate for food. Are there some foods I liked less, which I now enjoy because they evoke some flavor component in a wine I have come to love?
Fodder for thought.