2017 hasn’t been the best year. Every morning, I brace myself upon waking up as I open my news feed or social media, mentally preparing myself for what terrible news inevitably lies ahead. Terrorist bombings, mass shooting, catastrophic natural disaster following upon natural disaster, heightened political tensions (including crazy dictators threatening nuclear confrontation), domestic strife, and so, so much anger, vitriol, and toxicity, seemingly everywhere you look, often against one’s own fellow citizens. No country is immune.
Giant sunflowers filled the field, their yellow faces turned down to hide against the glare of the sun that dominated the cornflower blue sky. The next field over was filled with golden hay, freshly harvested and rolled into enormous, round bales that dotted the landscape for several miles. Small grapes hung from trees in another field, while the distant landscape was a gentle, rolling wave of green hills adorned with tall, ancient cypresses, elegantly pruned into long columns and standing proudly like Roman centurions guarding the land.
This was Coriano‘s “Agriturismo” commune, the countryside about 15 to 20 minutes outside the busy seaside resort of Rimini on Italy’s central coast. As I stared at the view from my taxi window, I thought of how the scene had been repeated from the trains I’d just taken from Rome and from Bologna. Well, minus the enormous fields of sunflowers that would have made Van Gogh utterly ecstatic. Italy was in full bloom, its countryside lush and slowly getting ready for harvesting. It made me all the more eager to get to my destination, to harvest my own crops of an olfactory nature, and to begin the perfume course that I’d journeyed so far to take.
In Part I of this series, I talked about Mandy Aftel‘s Chef Essences, and focused on the Ginger, Basil, Blood Orange, Rose Absolute and Pear. Now, I’d like to look at six more: Pink Pepper, Cepes (Porcini Mushrooms), Cognac, Coriander Leaf (Cilantro), Tarragon, and Chocolate, before ending on a personal note about why I think these Chef Essences are so significant.
According to the Aftelier website, the Pink Pepper Essential Spray is composed of berries from Kenya and its aroma is described as “fresh wood and warm-peppery.” I found its spiciness to be piquant, fruity, and a bit tart as well. It also made me realise something: I do not like pink peppercorns. I’ve always had issues with its fruity, gooey, jammy aroma in perfume, but I never really thought about how I avoid cooking with them, or how I actually pick out the pink peppercorns in any pepper mix. (Same with the green ones, actually.) I will put up with the lightest, barest sprinkling, but not much more. Which is why the intensity of the Aftelier Chef Essence came as a little bit of a shock to my system.
It is just like the real berries, with layers of nuance and, yes, the woodiness mentioned on the Aftelier website. I’d previously been told by a few people that the Black Pepper Chef Essence was astonishingly good on ice-cream, so I thought that the same thing would apply to the Pink Pepper one. To my surprise, it really was decent on vanilla ice-cream, though it took me a minute to wrap my head around the flavour combination. It’s certainly different, and captures your attention in the same way that sea salt does on things like cookies, chocolate, or other seemingly inapposite items. Continue reading
If you’re a foodie, there may come a time when you experience something whose flavour is so remarkable that words fail you, hyperbole becomes actual reality, and taste feels like a revelation. That is what happened to me the first time I tried one of Mandy Aftel‘s Chef’s Essences. My eyes grew wide, words didn’t come out in full sentences, and I felt a mixture of awe and disbelief. I know it sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not, and I mean it with absolute sincerity. Some of Mandy Aftel’s Chef’s Essences rocked my (food) world, and I think they’re pure genius. I’m not the only one. Ms. Aftel’s creations are used in the White House, as well as some of the top restaurants in the world.
The Collection is an extensive one, with 15 essential sprays and over 50 essential oils, ranging from basic items like Black Pepper and Cinnamon to funky things like Peru Balsam, Frankincense, Fir Needles, Ylang-Ylang, Magnolia, and Violets. I’ve tried 11 of them now and wanted to share my experiences with you, covering what exactly they are, why they are a remarkable invention, how you can use them, and some of my adventures (or misadventures in a few cases). The ones I’ve tested are: Rose, Ginger, Blood Orange, Pear, Cognac, Cepes (Porcini Mushrooms), Chocolate, Tarragon, Sweet Basil, Coriander Leaf (Cilantro), and Pink Pepper. Today, I’ll start with a background explanation and introduction, then focus on 5 of the Essences: the Ginger, Sweet Basil, Rose Absolute, Blood Orange, and Pear. The remainder will be covered in Part II.