Taste and smell are intimately linked. But can you really eat a BVLGARI scent? InterContinental Amstel’s executive chef Rogér Rassin explains how.
For Alberto Morillas, the master perfumer behind CK One, Kenzo Flower, Estée Lauder Pleasures, and—this year—BVLGARI’s Omnia Pink Sapphire, the arts of the chef and the perfumer are closely linked. “The composition is almost the same: the chef selects the best ingredients. And it’s very important to feel an emotion when you have food in your mouth, just as in perfume you feel an emotion when you have it on the skin,” he says. “But when you see the plate, you see with your eyes: perfume you can’t see. You need to dream when you spray it—you have just the impression of flowers, or fruit.”
Through the month of May, Pink Sapphire, a vibrant blend of sparkling pomelo, pink peppercorn, frangipani and vanilla musk, starred on the menu at InterContinental’s Amstel Hotel as the focal point of a unique high tea. It was the second time that executive chef Rogér Rassin had created a tea centred on BVLGARI’s scents: last November saw the Splendida fragrances recreated, vials and all, as mousses. Rose Rose became a mousse of mandarin and roses; Iris d’Or blended raspberry and cardamom; while Jasmin Noir combined green tea, jasmine and tonka beans.
Transforming a perfume into a meal is less outré than it might appear at first blush, as the senses of smell and taste are intimately interlinked. Flavour exists at the intersection of taste and smell, and we smell food twice: once as it approaches us and once as we consume it. (Humans are more sensitive to flavour than any species on earth.) But, while tasting an associated flavour can create awareness of a scent, fragrances and perfumes are perceived as scents alone, meaning the translation of a perfume to a food is a particularly complex alchemy.
One pitfall to avoid, says Rassin, is adding aromas to a dish. “If you do that, you taste one cake and you keep on tasting it,” he says. “[The scent needs to figure] in a nice balanced way, not that when you go home you still taste the grapefruit, or whatever.”
From its ultra-feminine pink bottle to its edible top notes, Pink Sapphire could have been designed for rendition as a high tea. Morillas’ initial brief was to create a scent that was happy, exotic and sunny. “The BVLGARI brief was very special, because they did also have this very nice pink sapphire,” he says. “You want to have this beautiful emotion. When you have this very pink sapphire, it’s very young, very sunny, very sweet. When you see the diamond or the emerald it’s so aristocratic, but the pink sapphire helped me to create this very nice perfume.”
For Morillas, the visual stimulus provided instant inspiration. “When I saw the emotion of the pink sapphire, I thought immediately: it’s very fresh,” he says. “The pomelo is fruity and bitter, and the pink pepper is woody, just a little bit spicy, very floral. When you mix pink pepper with pomelo, you have a strong floral effect.”
It generally takes at least a year to progress from that initial flash of insight to a fully formulated recipe: Morillas’ assistant may create 1,000, or even 1,500, variations on a theme to get the proportions right. Rassin’s approach to the challenge of creating a high tea around a perfume centered, naturally enough, around the scent. “First you sit down together and you take the perfume in your hand and you start spraying it around. And then you start tracing the aromas which it has—you can combine what the producer has on his papers,” he says. “And then you’ve got to translate those to the pastry and you’ve got to work together with the pastry chef.”
Of course, at a meal so definitionally theatrical as high tea, visual inspiration is not neglected. Pink diamonds cover a white chocolate cake to reflect the pink sapphire; the interlocking ‘C’s of the bottle are transformed into a grapefruit-vanilla cake; while the scent’s hashtag, #justdare, appears atop an elaborate miniature tart. But progression is key.
“We have certain flavours which are amazing to combine together: through the four courses of the high tea, you need to get the pink peppers, the grapefruit and the vanilla,” Rassin says. Yet balancing elements as disparate as a grapefruit-vanilla macaron garnished with pink pepper, a sparkling hibiscus tea and a curried smoked chicken sandwich topped with India’s scarlet paan masala is an art.
Rassin worked closely with Ronald Opten, maitre d’ at the restaurant La Rive and his right-hand man, to structure the progression. “With him, I dive deeper into it, because he’s more the guy for wines, so I need his taste, his mindset, to create the line of flavours after each other,” he says. “When you start with vanilla it takes a very long time to taste grapefruit, so better to start with the grapefruit and then go with the vanilla dishes.”
The results riff constantly on the Pink Sapphire, without neglecting the visual—and sensory—grammar of the classic high tea. Sandwiches are served inside a hollowed-out loaf; scones appear alongside a Jardin Bleu tea with a scent of rhubarb and wild strawberries; and, appropriate to a quintessentially feminine ritual, the colour pink features vividly in everything from smoothies to flowers.
It is, says Rassin, a playful approach that melds perfectly with the ancient art of the high tea. “It’s really nice to enjoy the high tea: you can enjoy the whole afternoon until 4 or 5pm,” he says. “The visuals are really nice, the people around you are good to enjoy, so it all comes together. You have to decide on your own if you want to take the time for yourself, together with your table mate, to enjoy it.”