Perfume Dinner Is a Feast for the Nose

Chandler Burr

New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr NewYorkInsider.Vox.com hide caption

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Chandler Burr writes about perfume for The New York Times. He and a chef at New York's The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, have developed a gourmet dinner designed to show how perfume can enhance food and drink.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Sniffing a fine wine is one way of appreciating it through its fragrance.

NPR's Margot Adler recently experienced an unusual dinner where perfume was key to appreciating the food.

MARGOT ADLER: I'm the kind of perfume-phobic person who throws out gifts of scented candles. So a dinner with food and perfume? And when 18 of us were sitting around a table at the Carlyle Hotel in New York and our guide said...

Mr. CHANDLER BURR (Perfume Critic, New York Times): I'm Chandler Burr, I'm the New York Times perfume critic.

ADLER: ...the first thought was who knew there was such a person? The Carlyle's executive chef, Jimmy Sakatos, did the food. Chandler Burr brought the perfume - culinary perfumes, ones that relate to food.

Mr. BURR: I am going to be giving you an olfactory meal. Jimmy has coupled it with a real meal.

ADLER: It worked like this. Chandler Burr let us smell a bunch of scents, then Jimmy Sakatos produced a course that related to those scents. People actually only taste sweet, salt, sour, bitter. Most of what we experience when we eat, besides texture, is smell, but becomes pretty clear that night that unlike dogs, we're not very good at it.

Mr. SAKATOS: To me, it's grapefruit, but...

Mr. BURR: Grapefruit. No.

ADLER: Papaya?

Mr. BURR: No.

ADLER: Mango?

Mr. BURR: Mango.

ADLER: Burr first gives us smells that bring back memories. The smell of Coppertone sun lotion brings you back to the beach. Or this one.

Mr. BURR: Ushane(ph), inhale. But don't say anything.

Mr. SAKATOS: What is this?

ADLER: Play-Doh.

Mr. BURR: All right.

Unidentified Man #1: It's completely artificial.

ADLER: Today's Play-Doh doesn't have a smell. They spray the smell in it so it's smells like the old Play-Doh. In fact, many things, like that leather smell in new cars, are scents that have been added. We smell lemon and green apple and cedar - put them together, it's very close to a best-selling perfume: Light Blue by Dolce and Gabbana. And after smelling the actual perfume, we are handed Martini.

Mr. BURR: An edible version of Light Blue.

Mr. BRIAN VAN FLANDERN (Mixologist, Bemelmans Bar, Carlyle Hotel): Apple cider with fresh lemon juice, a touch of simple syrup, and then a neutral green spirit of vodka, actually.

ADLER: Brian Van Flandern, the mixologist at the Carlyle, says drops of an edible essence of light blue have been added to the drink. Then Chandler Burr gives us four different scents. I'm sitting next to Ushane Lee, who works for Time Inc., and writer David Shenk.

Mr. DAVID SHENK (Writer): It's very citrusy.

Ms. USHANE LEE (Time Inc.): Like a lemon drop?

Mr. SHENK: Lemon...

Ms. LEE: Lemon drop?

ADLER: Lemon fudge.

Mr. BURR: It's lime. Fresh lime.

Mr. SHENK: Yeah.

Mr. BURR: Now here's the next one.

ADLER: Cinnamon.

Unidentified Woman: Excellent.

Mr. VAN FLANDERN: Yeah.

ADLER: The next one is harder, clove; and the final one, vanilla. Put them all together, Burr says, and everyone goes, oh my.

Mr. BURR: Coca-Cola is a smell.

ADLER: Lime, vanilla, clove, cinnamon equals Coke. Amazing. We drink some Coke to compare a taste and smell, then we smell a perfume with an essence of carrot, right before poached rock shrimp with heirloom baby carrots. As time passes, some of us are having more and more difficulty smelling. Our noses are burning out. Shane Lee.

Ms. LEE: I need a pallet cleanser for my nose. I mean, what do you do? What do you recommend?

Mr. BURR: If you guys want to clear your noses, the best way to do it is to smell your own skin.

ADLER: The Carlyle's executive chef, Jimmy Sakatos, says when Chandler Burr first approached him with bags with scents and perfumes...

Mr. SAKATOS: I thought he was nuts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SAKATOS: But no, actually, it was a lot of fun.

ADLER: As for reaction, David Shenk and Ushane Lee...

Mr. SHENK: I was just overwhelmed. I think that if anything, I don't think my brain could keep up with all the different distinctions.

Ms. LEE: It was great to hear like all the different components for a particular scent and break it down. The deconstruction part I really liked...

ADLER: Rosewood Hotels has invited Burr to take his perfume dinner to a few different cities. I've noticed that ever since that dinner, I'm more aware of smells. But the jury is still out on whether I will ever wear perfume.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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