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MARCUS POP FOOD: Senses and Flavors

By mahir | January 14, 2011

As a chef, one of the things I do is protect my taste buds. I’ve never smoked. I don’t drink too much. I don’t even drink a lot of coffee because I know how that can effect the way I taste.

I always want my palate to stay clean for something new.

We all have an idea of flavor. I learned saltiness from growing up in a fishing village, where we preserved our fish by salting it.

Sour and sweet became familiar to me via the same source – berries. When we, as kids, would pick them too soon an experience the sourness that comes with under-ripe fruit. Berries picked in season burst with sweetness, teaching us to be patient and wait till they were ready.

Heat came by way of South East Asia, where I sampled chilies and curries.

I learned to enjoy the bitterness in foods like broccoli rabe while I was training in France. America is learning to enjoy bitter now as well – I see it more and more on restaurant menus.

In Japan, I came to love miso soup, with it’s strong umami profile.

My palate is constantly evolving, like in instances where I’m learning the difference between wasabi, chili and berbere. They’re all spicy yet completely different from one another.

I sometimes wonder about how my cooking would be affected if I couldn’t experience flavors the way I do now. I can work through pain in my hands or when my back hurts, but what if I couldn’t see?

Charlie Trotter, a chef I’ve admired since I first came to the US, impressed me further when he mentioned he had hired a line cook who was blind.

I bumped into a former Aquavit server, who has also since become blind. He too is a great cook.

Grant Achatz wowed me as well. His livelihood was at stake, along with his life, as he struggled with oral cancer but he continued cooking through it all.

If I close my eyes, I know I can make a dish like gravlax, which I’ve cooked all my life, but what else would I be able to make? How differently would we cook if we couldn’t taste, see or hear? How would this affect our flavor profile?

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