Thursday, September 27, 2012
I’d been hearing about Chandler Burr’s perfume dinners for quite a while. Chandler used the be the perfume critic at the New York Times (bet you didn’t know that job existed, did you?) and has written two books on perfume.
In other words, when it comes to perfume, he’s the man.
But getting back to these perfume dinners. I’d been invited to three of them in the past but had never been able to go. I really wanted to even though I had no idea at all what they would be like. But I figured that anything that combined two of my favorite things couldn’t be bad.
Also, there was the fact that I love Chandler’s writing, so there was that too.
Finally, last week, the stars aligned and I was able to attend A Scent Dinner.
The meal took place in private dining room at Vivendo, at the St. Regis in Rome.All candle lit with puffy couches to sit on instead of hard chairs it was the perfect romantic setting for anything to do with perfume.
As we took our seats I noticed a side table where some of my all time favorite perfumes were laid out. Un Jardin en Mediterranee, Un Jardin sur le Nil, and Terre d’Homme. All Hermes and all in my cupboard back at home.
While I recognized the perfume bottles, the small metal bottles aligned next to them were a mystery. Until the dinner started of course.
As Chandler started to tell us all about the evening's dinner, waiters passed the first ‘course.’
Which was a thin strip of white paper that had been sprayed with the contents of one of the mystery bottles. Following Chandler’s instructions we each sniffed, then sniffed again. Did any of us recognize the scent?
Can I tell you right here how hard it is to recognize a pure scent when it’s sprayed on an anonymous piece of paper and wiggled in front of your nose? And, of all the scents we were presented with that evening this should have been the one that I knew. For years I had worn only Premier Figuer, by Artisan Perfumier. But no. I had no idea that what we were smelling was fig, pure and simple. I think my guess was mango or something equally off, like tar.
And so it continued. After smelling the various pure and totally mysterious ingredients that make up Un Jardin en Mediterranee , we were finally allowed to sniff the perfume itself. Fig, coconut and raisins were all key notes, but they all played together to create something completely new and different.
Much like the first course that we finally ate. The chef Francesco Donatelli had taken the perfume's separate ingredients and applied them to each dish. The various elements of Un Jardin en Mediterranee became Carpaccio di ficchi settembrini e sua purea, prosicutto di Parma con spuma di latte di cocco e riduzione di uva passita.
And so the dinner continued with each food course mixing and melding the same ingredients that informed each perfume.
My skill at sniffing out the scent only got worse as the night progressed. I'd be guessing cinnamon, oak and sandalwood, while the answers would be black pepper, vanilla and juniper. Oh well.
Besides being delicious, it was a lot of fun. It was also a novel insight into how our sense of smell works, especially when paired (or not) with other senses like sight and taste.
Would I do it again? In a heart beat. I figure practice makes perfect when it comes to scent recognition. And I could definitely use some more practice.
For more about Chandler Burr, his writings and his scent dinners, visit his web site.