Jamie Vincent Bordonaro
Harnessing the incredible powers of the olfactory system to discern levels and layers of flavors emanating from ingredients in a dish, unlocks the full potential of blissful gustatory pleasure. Whereas taste may be limited to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, our sense of smell allows us to appreciate the harmonious combination of complementing and contrasting aromas from the ingredients that comprise a dish. The far- reaching impact of aroma on the perception of a plate is exemplified through elements of basic and advanced technique alike.
Fundamental components that serve as the aromatic backbone to crucial concoctions rein supreme on a global scale. Everything from the French mirepoix, Spanish and Italian sofrito, New Orleans trinity, and Chinese ginger, garlic, and scallion preparations represent the foundation of their respective cuisines. Most culinary students learn about the importance of stocks in cooking. The heart of a properly executed stock is a combination of aromatic ingredients known as mirepoix in French cuisine. With a ratio of two parts onion to one part carrot and one part celery, in addition to an herbal bouquet of thyme, rosemary, and parsley, these vegetables provide the aromatic arsenal that will fragrance the final result.
The onions, garlic, and olive oil, used to start a traditional marinara sauce contribute the unmistakable accent necessary to transform the otherwise ordinary tomato mixture. Adding basil and oregano to the sauce enhances the end result with a refreshing herbal accent.
Only with an examination of the more complex and intricate sauces and preparations can the true potential and significance of aroma be appreciated. Mexican mole is a traditional sauce consisting of dozens of herbs and spices treated in such a way as to create a remarkably complex and fragrant end result. The heart of the sauce involves garlic, onions, dried chiles, coriander, and many other spices depending on the desired result. Finishing the sauce with a Mexican bitter chocolate contributes a notable upgrade in viscosity and richness. The multitude of components are intelligently combined to create a complex sauce whose aromatic effect leaves the palate in sensory bliss.
Lobster bisque is an incredibly satisfying and luxurious treat that also highlights the significance of aroma in cuisine. Roasted lobster shells, later coated with tomato paste, roasted further and combined in a pot with fresh garlic, fennel, and onion, simmers in water for about 45 minutes in the production of a flavorful lobster stock. Strain the stock and cook until reduced by half. The reduction not only concentrates the lobster flavor, but also emphasizes the aromatic contribution. Sweat diced shallots and garlic until translucent, deglaze with Cognac and flambee to burn of the raw alcohol taste. Combine the stock with this mixture and add ¼ of the total liquid in the form of heavy cream. Allow the mixture to reduce by ¼ and add a butter and flour roux to thicken. Cook for an additional 30 minutes to avoid any raw flour taste, finish with salt and pepper, and a hint of Sherry wine. The end result provides an intensely delicious lobster bisque that showcases the lobster flavor, while benefiting from the aroma of its components.
In Defense of Molecular Gastronomy
A discussion of basic and advanced techniques and preparations that showcase the role of aroma would surely be lackluster and incomplete without an evaluation of the modernist perspective. By definition, aroma allows us to step outside the constrictive box of flavor that is limited to sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Aroma correlates with the guiding principles and tendencies of molecular gastronomy to step outside the box of commonplace thought. Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago thrives from pushing boundaries and embodies innovation. A notable creation from Chef Achatz was the rosemary- scented “pillow” atop which one of the courses sat as part of an Alinea tasting menu. The scent and aroma of rosemary was captured inside a sealed bag and covered in a pillowcase. Just before serving chef punctured the “pillow” to allow the rosemary aroma to slowly escape and grace the guest upon its placement on the table. The addition of the whimsical release of rosemary fragrance contributed to the overall appreciation of the multi-sensory experience. As I embarked on my first cooking job after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2013, I proudly stepped foot in the culinary laboratory of Bouley in Tribeca. Chef David Bouley is an extraordinarily creative and innovative chef that embodies the importance of aroma in cooking. One particular example that exemplifies this is his oyster and kiwi dish that delighted diners for years. Chef Bouley investigated the aromatic components of oysters and connected a specific quality to one that existed in kiwi. Once he combined the ingredients, the matrimony had his blessing as he utilized the ingredients in a dish. Breaking down the aromatic molecular structure of the ingredients allowed Chef Bouley to form an unlikely and unexpected alliance between the components of this masterful plate.
The essential function of the olfactory response to food is the ability to distinguish distinct aromas in a dish. While not all palates are sophisticated or trained enough to dissect every ingredient in a plate of food, the ability to process aromas that result will allow a diner access to interpret and (above all) enjoy the end result.