The best perfumes transport you to other worlds, filling your mind with images or memories. Vanilla Smoke, the latest release from Mandy Aftel, did precisely that for me, recalling bygone times in a way that made me smile. I once lived in places where there were four seasons, where autumn’s passage into winter was marked by piles of red-gold leaves, and a frosty chill in the air. One of my favorite things was that first winter fire, building layers of logs, kindling twigs, and old newspapers in the fireplace, the aroma of burnt paper as the fire licked the outermost edges of the pile, then the scent and crackle as the red-gold-black flames crept inwards, charring the wood, and heralding a night of snuggling warmth ahead. Ms. Aftel’s Vanilla Smoke brings all of that back to me. Eschewing the typical refrains of caramelized or sugar-coated vanilla, her vanilla is built around the heart of a winter fire, with a good slug of Bourbon drizzled on top to really bring home the cozy comfort aspects.
Close your eyes, and imagine a morning walk through the country on a summer’s day. You start in a small forest glade where moss creeps up ancient trees and their gnarled roots. Leaves lie damp under your footsteps, crushed into earth that is dark, loamy, and a little sweet. Tender green shoots and fresh herbs climb out of the ground, peeking their heads around the moss, joining the forest’s morning song. The sun glints through the trees, seemingly half awake and still a little pale, but it quickly shakes itself to shine brighter and warmer, moving rapidly over the turquoise sky.
Your walk quickly takes you to a meadow on the other side where clover and soft grasses form a soft, downy blanket covering the lands. You find yourself a tree at the edges, near an adjoining field of hay and a farmer’s small herb patch filled with sage and thyme. You place a blanket and pillow on its mossy roots, lie back, and let the country’s summer pageant engulf you. The sun has woken fully now, shining warm and bright, enveloping you in its soft embrace. It’s a reverie of greenness that feels infinitely warm and happy without ever losing its innate, ineffable sense of elegance.
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.