Aromas waft into the nostrils as the dish arrives. Flavors explode with imagery of fabulous lands and forgotten civilizations, highlighted by local notes of earth, sun and moon. Pressing the fork into each morsel is a visual delight that alternates in texture from silky smooth to a delicate crispness. Peaceful rhythms scintillating in a background of melodic humming and chatter of others who dine. Plates are exchanged for the next course and with each move, anticipation builds. Finally, after a thorough sensual workout of the palate, desert arrives. Visually enticing and not too sweet, it is the smooth finish to a great meal. Satisfied and vitalized, the body is nourished, the mind is pleased and the soul tingles. Until the next time, life is perfect.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived”
Aromas enchant us, molding images into the cerebral cortex which can be recalled at any moment with a familiar whiff. With food, an attractive scent can trigger the desire to eat and cause a singular drive to eat something right away. The sense of smell is seventy percent of taste. While taste buds receive input from salty, sweet, bitter and pungent receptors, olfactory input can recognize up to 10,000 different aromas. This input is immediate and can bypass the normal processing to trigger memory in the cerebral cortex. Imagine having a barbecue without the intensely sensuous aroma not wafting by. A world without aroma is a sanitized and bland proposition. Studies have confirmed that the olfactory sense triggers memories more than the other senses. Mental imagery with the natural romanticized versions, adds immensely to the “theater of dining.”
Just as the chemical combination of food ingredients are medicine, food is also integral in aromatherapy. To exemplify this, think of the scents that floated out of the kitchen as a child, baking cookies or a cake, baking bread, or the almost acrid aroma of food cooking over an open fire. There is a sound reason for fast food restaurants to exhaust fumes onto the street. Over the years, it was very common for passersby to eat at Inn Season Cafe after walking by and smelling the great cooking scents outside our building.
It has been well documented that specific aromas encourage the body to function in different ways. There are scents which cleanse nasal passages, a few aid digestion and some inspire passion, while others work with the psyche. Scent is very much part of the “feng shui” of food and old cultures have this built in to the cuisine.
Setting a stage with scents
Scent is also very subjective. What we like has direct correlation to our life experience and conditioning. For one person the scent of a wonderfully aged cheese is mouth watering, to another it is revolting. The audience is important when planning a meal. Sometimes, we need to help educate a palate, so scents are orchestrated to enhance each other, framing the so called offensive aroma with more accessible and universally appealing scents. When entertaining, it is good to plan an aromatic environment along with the rest of the menu. Many times the aromas around the food have a profound effect on the flavors inside the preparations.
Importance of smells in cooking
Without tasting, the scent of food becomes prominent as a tool for perfection. In Vedic cooking, enjoying the smells of the food for oneself while cooking is the same as tasting it. The cooking aroma can be enjoyed as part of the process of cooking for others and certainly may be used as a tool for creating culinary wonders.
Manipulation of aromas during eating
Timing the drifting scents emanating from food and organizing them in a almost symphonic way can be as important as combining spices. Complimentary aromas play off each other, dancing in the imagination, toying with our memories.
The after dinner scents
After a fulfilling dinner, scent plays an important role in comfort and good digestion. Some of the unpleasant things restaurants do which we can avoid in our personal lives are spraying tables with window cleaners to sanitize while customers are nearby; using heavy bleach solutions to sanitize equipment and counters; have strong smelling food being served with delicate flavors; and allowing smoking nearby, or even at all.
Fortunately in our own homes, we may create environments without these olfactory pitfalls. To focus on the positive, candles create warm, cozy scents that are nice when extinguished too. A flaming dessert or steamy hot fudge sauce can fill the are with deep sensual undertones. Also removing the food from the table is a must before dessert and after the entire dinner when conversation may be heightened.
At Inn Season Cafe, we were always careful to not clash scents. Employees were not allowed to wear them and we were very sensitive to the tables nearby in our cozy dining room. One aroma that could come out of the kitchen like a “tsunami”, was the strong scent of toasting chillies when we cooked Indian cuisine. In certain circles it is considered cleansing, in others, an affront to the senses. In any case, it was part of the life in the food and not to be taken for granted in spite of our best efforts to shield sensitive noses.
I have created a library of news clippings from the days as chef and proprietor of Inn Season Cafe. They can easily be viewed by using either link below:
Animal companions are some of our best friends. In 1999, Sara and I found a beautiful china cabinet at the antique store down the street from the restaurant. Our thought was to add a home-like ambience to the Inn Season Cafe dining room. The Eureka moment came to Sara almost immediately to place pictures of our animal friends in the cabinet, not just our friends, the friends of our customers and employees as well. Immediately, the cabinet was well received and many people excitedly responded by bringing framed photos of their companions.
The cabinet became a mandatory stop for people coming to the restaurant as new friends in very cute poses regularly arrived in the cabinet. Very soon, the cabinet filled up and we started to rotate so as not to leave any friend out.
The animal-friends china cabinet became an important part of the Inn Season community, bonding employees and guests through recognizing the selfless dedication of our companions. Underlying the program was the focus on animals’ roles in our social existence, contrary to the common perceptions of them as chattel or sources of food, there are numerous studies confirming that people who befriend animal companions are healthier and live longer. Everyday they add to the quality of our lives.
Sara and I had lunch at Inn Season Cafe on Friday. We do not get there as often as we like, our life in Birmingham seems far away even though it is only five miles. The food was excellent. I had a wonderfully fresh carrot-apple-ginger juice with a flavorful potato-dill soup. Sara had the chili, good as always. We shared the Barbecued Seitan Sandwich and found it to be balanced, without the rubbery texture wheat gluten often has. The service was great, especially since we were doted on by our longtime friends Jenny, Amber and Jennifer. It has been over five years since we sold the Cafe and it is exciting to see the restaurant well run, busy and successful. Kudos to Chef Thomas and Nick for keeping it up as a vibrant centerpiece in the Royal Oak restaurant community.
I am currently mulling over the final edits of the Inn Season Cookbook (working title) and look forward to the day when it is for sale at the restaurant and bookstores. After all these years there is light at the end of the tunnel! The book covers the the period from when we first opened the cafe in 1981 to when I sold it in July, 2002.
Inn Season Cafe
500 East Fourth Street, Royal Oak, MI 48067