JAMES PETERSON, BPC FOUNDER
James Peterson grew up in northern California where he pursued a chemistry degree at U.C. Berkeley. After college, he went around the world, working east to west, from Japan to India, and eventually to France where he found his first calling, cuisine. After completing his trip, Jim returned to France where he worked in some of the finest restaurants in the world. He has a profound sense of food and cooking.
When Peterson returned to America, he settled in New York where he owned a highly acclaimed French restaurant, Le Petit Robert. The restaurant was described, by Jay Jacobs in Gourmet magazine, as “perhaps the most creative restaurant in New York.” After five years, the restaurant closed – too many truffles and too much foie gras – and James became a professor at the French Culinary Institute, an experience that eventually led to his becoming established as a major culinary author.
In a critical juncture in his life, he was invited to translate some pastry books from French into English. It was during this project that the publisher asked him to write his own book. He kept this idea under his hat until he bought an apartment and simultaneously lost his job. Desperate for cash, Jim suggested a book about sauces. After putting together a formal proposal, the publisher decided he wanted the book and gave Jim enough of an advance to get him out of his pinch.
After two years of constant work, Peterson completed Sauces. Years later, Jim found out that the first printing was 1,300 copies. Now the book has sold in the six figures.
Sauces explores the nuances of flavor that the cook is able to create and express. It was during the writing of Sauces that Jim realized the importance of aroma and its inextricable relationship with taste. Fourteen books were to follow – eight won major awards – each giving him a new angle from which to sample the great cuisines of the world.
James’s fascination with cuisine led him to perfumery. A mention of ambergris in a 16th-century culinary text inspired experiments with precious aromatic substances from all over the world. Initially he would smear concentrated essences on his arm to see how they combined, but after one experiment in which a synthetic chemical stunk up the whole house, he has since combined the essences, drop by drop, in little vials.
It is the gradual unfolding of aromas and complexes that keeps James fascinated by his (relatively) new pursuit. The search for a new perfume is analogous to creating a fine sauce – struggling note by note, until a perfect and original flavor comes into being.
James is an olfactory sensualist who appreciates the subtleties of great wines, wonderful cooking, and the nuances of fine perfumes. Now that he has established Brooklyn Perfume Company, he is able to share the results of his creative experiments.
James Peterson established the Brooklyn Perfume Company in 2014 after years of experimentation in his olfactory laboratory.
Peterson has always been interested in the rare and exotic. After reading about ambergris in that old culinary text, he tracked some down. Because ambergris is spit out by whales and retrieved on the beach, no harm comes to the animal. After finding a supplier in New Zealand, Jim tinctured the stuff (it looks like rocks) in alcohol. Before the tincture can be used, it must sit in the light for at least six months. He now uses the suitably-aged ambergris tincture in his perfumes.
Brooklyn Perfume Company also uses other more expensive ingredients, and more of them than virtually any perfume company today. This is a result of James’s commitment to the finest products and the fact that Brooklyn Perfume Company has none of the overhead of its much larger competitors. There are no retail stores (the eau de parfum is only sold through this site and in niche perfume boutiques), no fancy packaging, and no extensive advertising.
This being said, Peterson's perfumes contain a high proportion of the ingredients whose names they bear – Oud, Sandalwood and Amber – combined with other precious ingredients. Brooklyn Perfume Company’s Musk is completely artificial since no natural animal products are permitted.
James is often asked if his perfumes are all natural. The answer is no. First, the musk used must be artificial because the real variety comes from an endangered animal. Aroma compounds also increase longevity and support the natural compounds in the perfume. One famous perfumer was quoted as saying that aroma compounds create the framework for a perfume while naturals form its substance. That being said, Brooklyn Perfume Company uses aroma chemicals, but the proportion of naturals in the company's scents is many times the amount used in more commercial perfumes. It may even be more since many perfumes contain no naturals at all.
It’s commonly believed that aroma compounds can cause allergic reactions, whereas natural essences are harmless. The reverse is actually true. Aroma compounds consist of only one chemical while naturals may contain 500 or so, making the likelihood of a reaction from a natural much greater.
LAURIE KNOOP, BPC MANAGER
While James Peterson has managed to come up with various scents, it is Laurie Knoop, Jim's partner, who holds together the fort at Brooklyn Perfume Company. While James may produce something beautiful, it's Laurie who gets it out there. Prior to coming to BPC, Laurie worked as a food stylist for all varieties of media and owned Studio 129, a food-photography rental studio in Harlem. Through the studio, she produced award-winning web videos for clients like Arnold Bread, Rainbow Room, Savory, Farrah’s, Citarella, Kashi, Food And wine, Culture Magazine, Cheeses of Europe, and the USDA.
Laurie's organizational skills and support have been invaluable to Brooklyn Perfume Company. In her "can do everything" mode, she keeps BPC running and often guides Jim on what he needs to do next – after he fiddles around with his ambergris perfume.