Stowe Mountain Lodge Blog
A Chef’s View on Senses-Stowe Mountain Lodge's Culinary Journey
The professional chef needs all of his or her senses working in sync to fully appreciate the creative side of this lifestyle. Inspiration can come from all or one of the senses. Let’s explore the five senses though the culinary arts., a culinary journey I'd like to call it!
The smell of the melting snow and damp earth of spring makes me think of fiddle heads, asparagus and primers. The smell of the ocean reminds me of the wonderful fried clams in Old Orchard Beach,Maine. When I smell a freshly cut lawn I can almost taste Sauvignon Blanc. Smell can highlight the difference between wonderfully, fresh baked bread or spoiled meat. What an awesome power of suggestion the sense of smell really is.
The smell sensations are important on any culinary journey, because they prepare our bodies for digesting food. For example, smelling food triggers our salivary glands and digestive "juices". Without them, our stomachs wouldn't be ready for food, and we'd have trouble digesting food and making use of the nutrients we get from them. Such an impact smell has on our memories. To this day smelling chocolate chip cookies, baking in the oven takes me to a place reserved for childhood dreams.
Using sight, we can view beautiful images that derive different combinations of food. We can admire a perfectly balanced plate presentation, or another way to use those ingredients in our own vision. When we look at a picture, our eyes are pleased with the two dimensional sight, but our mind will deconstruct and reconstruct in ways that no computer on earth could keep up with. We can see a sleekly designed automobile and think of a similar style of cuisine. Sight has to be the easiest sense for inspiration. Looking at different ingredients, types of plates, a different landscape, magazine articles, or even watching an open kitchen full of chefs hard at work; all of this can inspire your own culinary journey.
“Jill, don’t touch that cake!” That is me telling my daughter to keep her hands away from a just frosted cake (to no avail, there is always a little finger print on the frosting!!) If you have ever pulled a carrot from the earth or to felt good pasta dough running through your hands, almost like thin leather, you know this culinary journey well. Feeling the ripeness of a mango can easily tell us what type of application we can use the fruit in. I myself love to eat meat off the bone, chicken drumsticks… is there anything better, really! As a chef one of the defining moments in my career was when I was training as an apprentice and one of my senior chefs said to me “what you make with your two hands will go in someone else’s mouth”. Wow! That was a powerful statement. From pride to personal sanitation, that changed the way I thought about food forever. I must admit though, I too try to get a finger of frosting off a cake too (don’t tell Jill)!
I have always believed that music and food share a common ground. When a musician is writing a piece of music what makes him choose to play the 6-string guitar at that particular moment instead of the bass. Why would he choose to have a trumpet instead of a trombone? When the rhythm of the music is increased, is that unlike the rush of dinner service? At 7:30 on a Saturday night, the operational tempo of most kitchens is incredible. The sounds of the kitchen timers, pans on stove tops, hurried voices-not unlike an orchestra with its string, horn and percussion sections. Inspiration from music is something I always love to think about. Different moods lead to different music as well as food. Sometimes I’m in the mood for Metal Music and spicy food, while other times I’m in the mood for comfort food and Classic Rock. The visceral distinction that our mind auto-detects for us about music and food is also fun to explore. When I hear Christmas Music I think of peppermint and egg nog, when I hear Jazz Music I think of gumbo and BBQ shrimp. What do you think of?
But of all of the senses, taste is the most paramount on the culinary journey of the senses for the professional chef. Psychophysicists have long suggested the existence of four taste “primaries,” referred to as the basic tastes: sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness. Every delicious bite of food you have ever had has been a result of these four tastes coming together on your taste buds. Each taste affects the other, bitterness suppresses sweetness, and a little saltiness enhances sweetness. Although first described in 1908, savoriness (also called "umami" in Japanese) has been only recently recognized as the fifth basic taste. If I asked you to tell me what an orange tastes like, you could come up with some descriptions of “flavor.” Sweet, citrus, tangy. But you can’t tell me what an orange tastes like. The funny thing is that an orange tastes the same to you, me and people all over the world. In the orange example, Taste is universal, yet taste is also very, very personal. Some of us like our cuisine really spicy, some like it salty. We each have our own tastes. For a chef, Taste is the zenith, the most important and the hardest to master.
To prepare the cuisine that we serve at Stowe Mountain Lodge, we utilize all of the senses to create one symbiotic experience-the culinary journey! The music playing in the restaurant cannot compete with the cuisine. The feel of the dining room, not too hot or too cold. You hear the open kitchen of Solstice as the Chefs preform their craft. You eat with your eyes first as you see the dish of food. And finally, the taste. Perfect. I hope I have opened your mind to think about how you use your senses to relate to cuisine. Inspiration is all around us, can you sense it?!!
I hope you will take your own culinary journey with us here at Stowe Mountain Lodge this spring and summer at Solstice or Hourglass, and enjoy all that we have to offer. Enjoy!