Olfactory delights

Food paired with fragrances can create an unforgettable sensory experience. French master perfumer Nicolas de Barry tells us how he puts the two together.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2013 03:01 IST
Shara Ashraf
Shara Ashraf
Hindustan Times

You know that a Merlot is a cheery companion for lamb chops or it’s a Prosecco that livens up your sea food dishes. But have you ever thought what perfumes can do to your food? If you have savoured the treats master perfumer Nicolas de Barry deftly enhances with essential oils, you’ll know that when paired with exquisite food, fragrances create an unforgettable sensorial experience. They liven up your mood, stir nostalgia, and ameliorate the flavours of your meal in an almost magical way.

Barry, who says he has always been in love with the past, seeks inspiration in old traditions to create his food and perfume marvels. He was in Delhi to put together a food and fragrance menu for Orient Express at the Taj Palace along with executive chef D N Sharma. “I’ve always been drawn to fragrances. So I thought why not try my hand at perfumery,” says Barry who studied sociology and history, but found his true calling in the world of perfumes. Barry curates food and perfume pairings across the world. He says teaming up fragrances with food is an art, and there can’t be any pairing rules. “Both the chef and the perfumer are like artists. And I play the chef’s assistant, work up a list of perfumes and let the chef go about picking up dishes that go best with the smells,” he explains.

Although using fragrances in gastronomy, such as rose in India, orange in Europe and Jasmine in China, is not new, infusing essential oils in food is not a much explored concept. And the fragrances that Barry picks up to liven up the food are also not common in the European kitchen. He pairs two things that do not seem even remotely connected, and ends up creating gastronomic marvels. For example, the horsdoeuvres in his menu include salmon smoked with sandalwood, served with bergamot dust. In the entree, one of the dishes, pan seared fresh foi gras, is pepped up with agar wood, while the main course has dishes such as honey glazed chicken that has been given a zingy twist with lavender. “The trick to creating a perfect fragrant meal is to find the balance between the dish and the perfume. I do multiple trials, and experience the results myself first, before offering the food to my guests,” says the perfumer.

And when Barry says perfumes, he is talking 100% natural perfumes, rare and precious oils that have therapeutic properties. “I once saw a chef spray commercial perfume on his food. It’s a gimmick that’ll fade out while the trend of infusing essential oils in food will grow bigger,” he says. We can’t agree more after savouring his perfumed delights.

A scented recipe you should try
Jasmine scented shrimp salad
Makes 6 servings
455 gm large peeled and deveined cooked shrimp
1 cup (125 gm) chopped celery
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 cup (85 gm) chopped onion
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
3/4 (180 ml) cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
2 drops of jasmine essential oil diluted in 10 ml Vodka
In a large bowl, gently toss the shrimp, celery, carrot, onion, eggs, and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 drops of Jasmine essential oil diluted in 10ml of Vodka. Chill until ready to serve.

First Published: Apr 18, 2013 17:15 IST