Many of us have seen the cooking shows where Chefs, even the experienced and well-known, are blindfolded and asked to taste something then define what it is. They often fail. I am not talking about the nuances of subtle tastes. I am talking about being able to decipher the flavor of a food and figure out exactly what it is.
I've spent some time studying flavor, what it is, how we define it. It used to be thought that only taste buds on certain parts of the tongue can detect specific flavors: bitter, salty, sour, sweet and the elusive umami. I attend lectures at Harvard on Science and Cooking, which, by the way, are open to the public and highly recommended for an informative, insightful evening of food. Here, world class Chefs and international experts delve into all aspects of food, including the chemistry and physics. Harold McGee, the godfather of kitchen science once told our class that recent evidence is to the contrary and indicates that all of our taste buds can detect all of the flavors. It is estimated we have about 10,000 of these.
With that in mind we really looked forward to the annual Taste Of Perkins 2013, held recently at the Perkins School, a legendary, leading institution for the visually impaired in Watertown. The taste test would include being blindfolded to ascertain four bites of gourmet food. How would we do?
After a few appetizers and a cocktail we assembled our team. Joining me would be Alaina Posluszny, a professional Concierge with Tillinger's, Dean Igoe, TBF Contributor and Bianca Garcia, author of Confessions Of A Chocoholic. Was it true that one "tastes first with the eyes?" How would this group of food writers and aficionados do?
On our way to be blindfolded and seated and ready for the challenge. L to R: Dean, Alaina and Bianca.
Seated center stage in the dining hall, blindfolded and ready to go. There would be four separate dishes to taste and some wine along the way. It was totally disconcerting to sit at a dining table without the benefit of sight. We stumbled and our hands roamed the table looking for napkins and utensils.
The tastes would be served up one at a time, placed into our outstretched hands so we would not end up spilling or wearing most of it. Still, we spilled and knocked things over.
Our first taste was a sip of what seemed to be some kind of gazpacho. The flavor was sweetish and creamy but the profiles were not clear. Without seeing the color or consistency, which would have made things much easier, I guessed it was, maybe, some kind of melon. The others stammered and guessed and sipped. We were all wrong. The actual dish: Thai Coconut and White Corn Soup.
The voices at other tables grew louder. Without sight there is no question that our hearing acuity was amped up. In fact, everything was louder. You would think our sense of taste and smell would be, too.
Next up was a Chocolate Covered Strawberry Rolled in Pastry Rocks. We all got this one. Well, the chocolate and strawberry, anyway. Our third sample: Porcini Mushroom Tartlet with Truffle and Celery Salad. The soft pastry gave the tart away but was it some kind of quiche? A big fan of truffle, even I did not detect the subtle flavor. Again, none of us would guess all the ingredients. Last was a Dried Apple Meringue Matchstick with Salted Caramel Pearls. It was distinctly tangy, causing a serious mouth pucker. Was it lemon? Had we been able to see the bright green color maybe we would have guessed apple. Yet, we didn't. One out of four. And we're food writers!
Our favorite wine, by far, was an easy choice. Widow's Walk, a a fruity, elegant Riesling provided by Plymouth Bay Winery, who provided all the wines for the event. The others we eventually guessed, after going through most of the grapes we knew of.
We ended the night with some sweet treats from our friend Kim Mancini of Kim's Candy Buffet, one of the most popular spots with the crowd.
In short, this was a revealing night and totally fun, proving to us all, firsthand, exactly just how intertwined our sight is to the way we eat and taste our food. Congratulations Perkins on another successful year!