Think of your favourite food. Maybe it’s a gloriously sticky chocolate cake, an indulgent bowl of pasta, or a plate piled high with roast potatoes. Whatever it is, the smell is sure to get you salivating. That’s because around 80 per cent of a food’s flavour comes from its smell, which is why you might struggle to taste when you have a blocked-up nose.
Recognising the inextricable link between taste and smell, bespoke perfumer Louise Bloor decided to combine her love of fine fragrance and delicious food to create the Fragrant Supper Club (FSC). Using her knowledge and experience of all things olfactory, she opened up her kitchen and her home to create a place for people to come together and enjoy food enhanced by natural essential oils.
Through five courses, Louise pairs seasonal ingredients with oils more commonly found in perfumes to create intense and delicious taste and smell experiences.
She explains: “Smell and taste are very personal. Everybody has smells they like and smells they don’t like, and memories associated with those. A lot of it is about sharing the whole supper club experience. It isn’t just about eating; it is about sharing food, memories and talking about it all.”
But Louise doesn’t stop at adding fragrant essential oils to her recipes. A meal in her living room includes a whole array of ways to enhance food, including scent-infused cutlery, vials of perfume to be spritzed during courses, and coffee-scented fans to help cleanse palettes and noses.
“Taste is made up of the flavour in your mouth and the fragrance in your nose,” Louise says. “Scent can actually change how you perceive taste. Even if you are not tasting something, if you are smelling it, it can affect the way you perceive the taste in your mouth.”
This is probably most apparent in relation to wine. Sommeliers spend a lot of time training their noses to recognise the notes and flavours of a fine wine. And wine labels, if you ever get as far as reading them, often suggest food pairings to complement the taste of your merlot, chardonnay, or pinot grigio.
But what’s the benefit of combining these two senses over dinner? Louise believes that the experience creates a more intense and enjoyable experience for her diners. “When people focus on the sense of smell, it is like opening up this whole world they don’t normally think about. Smell is incredibly personal and powerful, and it can be very emotional.“It is something that people don’t really think about, so when the floodgates open people get really into it. People really have masses to talk about when they start talking about scent.”
And Louise is right, smell, more than any of our senses, is wired to our emotions. That’s why a whiff of a certain perfume can evoke such strong memories. When paired with food – something that often bares links to our childhood homes and habits – the effect can be breathtakingly nostalgic and can help strangers form bonds and explore common ground.
Louise uses an example of a game she plays to break the ice at her supper clubs. Louise gives each of the 16 diners, often strangers, a mystery scent strip. The game is for them to find a matching strip by interacting with the other guests.
She explains: “It forces people to talk to other people in the room. People are shy at first, but after five minutes there’s deafening noise coming from the lounge. People have a lot to say about their sense of smell, what they like and what they don’t like, because they don’t get a chance to talk about it normally.
“People will start talking about what the smells remind them of, saying, ‘Oh my god! I think it’s hay. It reminds me of when I had horses and I used to muck them out’. Then people disagree and share their stories. People really get talking. It brings people together.”
The Fragrant Supper Club creates a space for people to explore using their noses in a way that is very rare in everyday life. Her food, whether it be a geranium ice cream, a basil salad dressing or a tobacco cream, encourages people to talk about a sense that is often overlooked, and recognise its importance and its beauty.
So can you just add a drop of essential oil to your whipped cream? If you want to explore the relationship with scent and taste, ensure that the oils you buy are edible and of food-grade quality. Expressing citrus oils directly from the rind of a fruit is a good way to include an essential oil in your meal. Or why not spritz a small amount of fragrance while you eat and see how it affects your taste buds?