By Kim Shambrook, Kendall’s Interim President
People don’t often think about culinary innovations in beverages, but it’s a natural topic for Chef Elaine Sikorski. As the instructor of our Flavor Theory course, she’s constantly brainstorming new approaches to any and all ingredients. During an event at Imbibe, Inc. in September, she presented ideas to help colleagues, both practitioners and fellow faculty, design new flavors. Here, she shares her process:
Tell me about the concepts you presented in “Designing Flavor: A Culinary Perspective.”
A chef uses the mind-mouth connection as an instrument to assess flavor. I used a Gin Rickey, a common cocktail, as an example, to illustrate how to do this. First, I examined seasonal ingredients. In the fall, we have access to hard squashes, cranberries, celery root and apples. Next, I thought about the ingredients that grow near one another, because they often share flavor affinities. In a wooded area, you might find berries, hickory nuts, sugar maple trees and wild rice. You may also consider cultural traditions since they determine how you pair ingredients. Bacon is an American favorite and pairs well with eggs, clams, beans and cabbage.
A standard Lime Rickey starts with gin or bourbon, includes lime, carbonated water or lemon-lime soda, has little or no sugar, and is served on ice. I broke that down by deconstructing the ingredients to come up with flavor associations, which allowed me to elaborate and personalize it. Immediate ideas included a Raspberry Lime Rickey and a Rosemary-Honey Gin Rickey. But by honing the recipe even more, I created a version of a Black Pepper Gin Rickey, which is driven by handcrafted black pepper-lime soda.
Next, I considered the ingredients even more broadly. Does this flavor profile also fit on the menu elsewhere? I adapted the flavors for a jam that can be served with cheese as an amuse-bouche to begin a multi-course meal. The goal of my presentation was to showcase that as chefs, once you allow yourself to enter a creative space by setting a few parameters (like choosing a recipe as a starting point), it’s possible to come up with endless variations.
Your process and concepts were very well received by the audience. How does a chef’s approach differ from a scientist’s?
Scientists develop flavors very differently than chefs do; however, there is a tremendous amount of overlap. Chefs approach flavors in chords. For example, a chord of carrots, celery or another whole ingredient. Chemists focus on the notes, not a full chord, by examining the chemicals in each ingredient. When I look at the chords, I look for the same notes, because they pair well. The exercise makes me think more deeply about the synergy of the ingredients in each recipe, which allows me to be more creative.
How do you apply principles like this in the classroom?
As a culinary instructor, my goal is to share how students can use their mouths and minds simultaneously to analyze ingredients, choose cooking skills and make adjustments to craft a dish. In the Flavor Theory course, one exercise asks students to design a recipe based on a color (using the color in the actual dish is not required). To represent the color blue, one student used dashi granita, quick cured cod, grapefruit and tarragon caviar, pickled ginger and kohlrabi. She did a brilliant job—and it tasted like a light blue. It’s so rewarding to see how purposefully creative our students can be.