The Alchemy of Taste and Smell

No, the blog hasn’t died, and I haven’t forgotten my WordPress password. Rather, I’ve just been deep in work and life the past, uh, couple of months, and the blog updates I do in my spare time have taken a hit as that spare time has become almost nonexistent. But in case there’s anybody out there still reading this thing, I do have a bunch of stuff coming up starting later this week — but before I get to that, I wanted to get in a quick plug for an event this weekend that I would absolutely be attending if I happened to be in New York.

I think it’s fair to say that there are very few people who have influenced the cocktail world in the past decade as much as Audrey Saunders. Owner of Pegu Club in New York and now my Seattle neighbor (if you consider living on the opposite side of town from me as being a “neighbor”), Audrey is one of the most talented, and professional, people in the industry. This weekend, Audrey is participating in a series of events at the Astor Center in New York, along the lines of “The Alchemy of Taste and Smell” — events ranging from a seminar on aroma and cocktails that Audrey is leading with Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology for the French Culinary Institute and evil genius behind the Cooking Issues blog, to an opening party and a closing dinner that features not only drinks from Audrey and Dave, but food from chefs including David Chang, Wylie Dufresne and Daniel Patterson.

If I didn’t happen to live about 3,000 miles away from the East Village, I’d be on this in a heartbeat. If you’re more conveniently located, and you’re a drink/food geek (and if you’re reading this blog, then GUILTY), then this should be your weekend priority (can’t make all the sessions? Then Friday’s cocktail party and Audrey & Dave’s session seem to be highlights for the mixo crowd).

And now, because I’m lazy, I’m copying and pasting session descriptions; follow the links to find out about booking tickets.

The Alchemy of Taste and Smell
Astor Center, New York City
November 12-13, 2010

Cooking is alchemy: the art of transforming raw materials into a perfected form. Cooking fuses taste and smell, emotion and memory, culture and nature. The work of chefs today is much discussed, but the process by which new dishes and flavor combinations are created remains mysterious. This event will explore creativity in cooking, the composite nature of flavors and the importance of aroma in food and drink.

The event commences on Friday evening, with a cocktail making demonstration, followed by a reception and cocktail party that will feature creative cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Saturday will have demonstrations and talks, followed by a meal.

Seven chefs will collaborate on the dinner on Saturday night. The seven-course meal (one course by each chef) will be experimental in nature, exploring new flavor combinations and making explicit the connection between what we smell and what we taste. For instance, a cucumber/melon salad served on a plate scented with mint essence, as a sensory sleight of hand where by the end of the dish the diner thinks that they have eaten the herb, even though they have only smelled it. Mandy Aftel will collaborate on the dinners. The dishes would be accompanied by appropriate wines.


Friday Evening

5:00 p.m:
Dave Arnold and Audrey Saunders
Demonstration: Using Aroma in Cocktails (The Study, up to 36 people) $55

Dave Arnold and Audrey Saunders will demonstrate how they use aroma in cocktails, including distillations, essential oils and infusions.

7:00 – 10:00 p.m:
Opening Party (The Lounge and The Gallery, up to 250 people) $95
Creative cocktails by Dave Arnold and Audrey Saunders
Participating Chefs: David Chang, Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, Daniel Patterson, Nils Noren, Bill Corbett

The party will feature stations spread throughout the two rooms, with chefs and mixologists on display, making food and cocktails. There will be some passed food as well, and white and red wines will also be served.

Saturday Day

11:30 a.m:
David Chang, Wylie Dufresne
Demonstration: New Flavor Combinations (The Study, up to 36 people) $55

Chang and Dufresne will demonstrate some of the dishes that illustrate the strikingly original approach for which they have become famous.

1:00 p.m:
Harold McGee
Lecture: Thinking about Flavor (The Gallery, up to 100 people) $45

McGee will outline the chemical and biological nature of flavor. He will describe the molecules that stimulate our senses of taste and smell, how taste and smell work together to create the perception of flavor, and how that perception is influenced by past experience and by context.

2:30 p.m:
Daniel Patterson and Johnny Iuzzini
Demonstration: Flavor and Aroma (The Study, up to 36 people) $55

Patterson and Iuzzini will demonstrate dishes that focus on the interaction between taste and smell. They will each make dishes starting from the same flavor combinations, demonstrating a range of styles and techniques.

3:45 p.m:
Panel Discussion: Creativity and Flavor (The Gallery, up to 100 people) $35

Five leading chefs will discuss the process by which they create new dishes. The discussion will include the role of ingredients and technique, and how childhood memories and historical and cultural contexts influence the chefs. Moderated by Harold McGee.

5:00 p.m
Mandy Aftel
Demonstration: Creating with Aromas (The Study, up to 36 people) $35

Aftel will demonstrate the process of how she creates with scent — showing you how to orchestrate the interactions between pure and natural essences when blending a flavor or fragrance. The design concepts include register (top, middle, base), relative intensity, evolution, locking, and burying. This architecture of aroma will be illustrated graphically by smelling some unexpected combinations, over a range of concentration ratios. The goal is to produce beautiful and innovative aromas.

Saturday Evening

Dinner. The Lounge (40 people) $300

David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, George Mendes, Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, Nils Noren, Daniel Patterson, Bill Corbett. The chefs will each make one dish. Some of the dishes are in collaboration with perfumer Mandy Aftel using her essential oils. The price includes beverage and service.


Mandy Aftel (Owner, Aftelier Perfumes; Author)
Dave Arnold (Director of Culinary Technology, FCI)
David Chang (Chef/Owner, Momofuku, ** Michelin Stars for Ko, World’s 50 Best Restaurants #26 for Ssam Bar)
Bill Corbett (Pastry Chef, Coi)
Wylie Dufresne (Chef/Owner WD-50, * Michelin Star, World’s 50 Best Restaurants #45)
Nils Noren (Vice President of Culinary and Pastry Arts at The International Culinary Center)
Johnny Iuzzini (Pastry Chef, Jean-Georges, *** Michelin Stars)
Harold McGee (Author and NY Times Columnist)
George Mendes (Chef/Owner, Aldea)
Daniel Patterson (Chef/Owner Coi, ** Michelin Stars)
Audrey Saunders (Mixologist, Owner Pegu Club)
Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa (Chefs and Authors, Ideas In Food)

4 Responses to The Alchemy of Taste and Smell

  1. there are very few times when i wish i lived in NY instead of chicago. but now is certainly one of those times…

    ps. glad to have you back

  2. I have your sight bookmarked and check on it a lot. Yes, I’m disappointed that you don’t work very much on it, because I enjoy it and you are talented. So, screw the rest of your life and responsibilities – get back to work on this more often to make me happy. Its all about me. LOL.

Leave a reply