Sunday, October 29, 2006

what Daniel Boulud says about taste

To Read: The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The United States of Arugula, David Kamp. What I'm currently reading: Cool For You, Eileen Myles, Letters to a Young Chef, Daniel Boulud.

I started reading Letters... because Daniel is actually one of the few quite nice restaurants I've been to. My mom and I went several years ago on some trip to New York, and I had no concept of famous restaurants per se, nor do I remember what I ordered, although it's fair to assume we probably had creme brulee for dessert. So yes, I've been to Daniel, I only remember having to look pretty and knowing I was supposed to be impressed. Maybe I'll ask my mom if she remembers. Maybe it was Ruth Reichl's description of Daniel in Garlic and Sapphires, or maybe some desire to slight New York, but I picked up Letters in the first place because I was hoping for a good laugh.

While I've never read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet I am of course aware that Boulud is stealing from his. I read Boulud's first sentence in the library, and he begins: "Writing these letters to you has inevitably made me think of myself when I started out in this business more than thirty years ago." It was self-aggrandizing enough for me to decide it was worth a read.

Then on p. 42--after I'm reading and fine with his style, not really relating to his odes to braising, but hey, I'm a patissier, I'm not supposed to--I get to this:

"One thing that influences taste but which has nothing to do with taste buds is texture. With many dishes, your mouth seeks out texture first before it 'decides' to experience taste. That is one of the fascinating things about taste: you prepare yourself mentally beforehand. Texture is a critical messenger in letting your tate know what is coming." (42)

And he's right, of course, if I stop to think about it. Why this interests me in particular is that I've over my entire life chosen to eat foods (or not) based primarily on texture and temperature. Nothing cold (except dessert), nothing slimy, nothing raw, nothing mushy. No egg yolks. No cereal with milk. No cheese, no tomatoes, no cold cuts, no mushrooms, no ketchup, no mayonnaise...It goes on and on, and dessert's pretty much the only food group I've never had these sorts of rules for. As I've gotten older they've bent. But I've never considered how (or if) the things I've chosen to put in my body allow for a certain sort of taste experience left out.

Maybe tomorrow, when I go out for Mexican with Drew at the deliciousRudy's right down the street from me, maybe I'll dip my taco or what not into the sour cream and see what it actually tastes like. Some combination of yogurt and creme fraiche likely, and I probably won't be too keen, but it is used a lot in baking and I do have no framework for tasting it. Not only it is mushy and cold, it's sour...

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