Wine, Sauces, and Perfume: My Olfactory Education

I pilfered my first glass of wine when I was 7 years old. Parents and guests seemed to enjoy it so, and since it was forbidden, it was essential to try. I diligently cleared the table, taking away unfinished bottles to the kitchen, to be sipped and analyzed on the sly. 

Years later, as part of a professional wine group, I drank many beautiful things—pre-war Burgundy comes to mind--now only obtainable by the ultra-rich. Other than training my nose, I recognized the subtle interplay between artist and nature--the careful taming of accident that brings about a new creation. 

I went to France in 1975. There, after being blown away by a chicken with tarragon poached in cream, my destiny was sealed and I became a cuisinier. I worked in the finest restaurants, ate in the finest restaurants (requiring most of my meager salary), and wrote about the finest restaurants. 

After returning from France in 1979, and opening a French restaurant, I wrote a book, Sauces, that delves into the interplay of ingredients and how this engenders something new and entirely original, much like a perfumery accord.

After gaining a basic understanding of technique it’s possible to create, often from a very limited pantry, sauce accords of extraordinary originality. Guests at my restaurant wanted the mysterious recipes when, in fact, I invented them, without thought, on the fly. The state of mindlessness that arose in such a fast-paced kitchen, where there was no time for the slightest rumination, left room for sudden and unpredictable discovery. 

Whether these experiences will help me become a perfumer, I don’t know, but the creation of accords is very similar. So is the joy of an entirely new aroma.

Most of all, I never stop being amazed at olfactory beauty--beauty sometimes so revealing and rich, that I’m left in tears.