Русская версия здесь
I have carved out some time to prepare an English version of my interview with lovely Ayala Moriel which I originally wrote in Russian for SuperStyle.ru, so that my English speaking friends could also have a chance to read it in my blog.
Taste and smell are two highly related senses. No wonder that those who have a special place for fragrances in their life add aromas into their food in a very creative and inspiring fashion. By saying that we surely don’t mean cooking our favorite soup and pouring, let’s say, Chanel No.5 into it just to make ourselves happy. It is much more complicated than that and you have to wield some special skills to create delicate perfumed dishes.
Perfumers whose life is all about fragrances anyhow have their own perfume-y way of cooking when they take control of the kitchen. For instance, if you asked one of them what he or she would have become, other than a perfumer – the most likely response you’d get would be “a cook” (OK, some of them would still say “I would have become a perfumer anyway!”). This seems to be logical, doesn’t it?
Perfumed dishes don’t really have to be fragrance-bent. It’s a different substance altogether, a perfume composition which molds its olfactory qualities into an edible form. There are ingredients which you would hardly classify as anything but pedestrian, be it part of food or perfume (cinnamon, vanilla, mint, chocolate etc). However, what about ylang ylang or tuberose? Could you normally eat those things? Let’s take our investigation from here and start with the most interesting part of the subject.
Ayala Moriel – the owner and perfumer at Ayala Moriel Perfumes — has always enchanted me not only with her beautiful perfumes but with her creative perfumed cooking as well. So she was Number One on my list to address the questions to when I decided to write about fragrant food.
Anastasia Denisenkova: How did you come to an idea of making perfumed food for the first time? What was it?
Ayala Moriel: The first dish where I incorporated essential oils was actually out of necessity: I was making a pumpkin pie, but was out of ginger. So I added a drop of ginger oil instead. I thought it was a disaster personally — but everyone loved it. But my first deliberate delving into aromatic cooking was with my chocolate truffles. A friend sent me chocolate ganaches that she scented with a single floral essence. And because I knew that truffles are made of ganache, I decided to take the step towards «translating» my perfume called Guilt into a truffle. Guilt is a composition with cacao absolute in it, so it was a natural to turn it into a chocolate truffles: To the chocolate ganache, I added, drop by drop and with careful tastings between each addition — other prominent elements in the perfume: orange blossom absolute, blood orange and wild orange. Until it was just perfect. After that there was no stopping me from turning any of my perfumes into a truffle — some were just inevitable, such as Guilt, Roses et Chocolat (cacao with rose otto, and to the truffle I also added chilli and saffron), Charisma (white chocolate with green tea and jasmine) and White Potion (white chocolate with tuberose and coconut).
Anastasia Denisenkova: I know how much you love cooking and you really are a great and gifted experimenter! Is using different flavors and aromas some kind of an alternative to your perfume creation?
Ayala Moriel: It certainly is — how did you guess?!
It’s not only more affordable to experiment in the kitchen, but also more practical: people will always eat what you make, even if it’s not «perfect».
That’s not the case with perfume experimentation. There are many mods that will never see the light of day and are just «shelved» or put away in a drawer because they were just a stepping stone for the final creation. Or things that I just create as experiments to get to know a material or that are more artistic and wild.
My collection is vast already (49 scents in my permanent collection, and that’s after I’ve weeded out a lot of scents, which was a very painful process). So I don’t feel the need to release more perfumes, and in fact decided to limit my new releases for the upcoming years, and focus on the re-branding (launching this month) and just making my brand’s presences stronger — without the hype of a new perfume. There is a lot of pressure to bring more products, even from retailers or publications that never experienced my existing line. It’s a bit exhausting and interfere with the creative process. So that’s my little way of resisting this pressure and trying to tackle marketing from a different angle.
Anastasia Denisenkova: So kitchen becomes quite a field of alternative creativity, right? Do you perceive perfumed food more in olfactory or in gustatory way? Which one is the paramount for you as a perfumer?
Ayala Moriel: The process of creating perfume is purely olfactive. Although the two senses — taste and smell — are related. In my perfumes the inspiration is almost always very personal — emotions, feelings and memories that are attached to scents. Perfume making is my art, and means for self-expression. I enjoy it very much, especially smelling the raw materials and «getting lost» in them. But there are also some very painful components in this creative process, all the ups and downs that artists go through a lot — the experience that inspires the perfume could sometimes be a painful one, frustration when the vision is not carried out accurately, dry spells when there is supposedly no inspiration, and so on.
When I bake and cook, it’s purely for the joy of putting together a feast — either for my family, friends or customers when I’m hosting one of my tea parties. I love the thrill of surprising the palate, and that’s when my knowledge of different raw materials and spices from the perfume world comes handy, as well as my interest in different food cultures. I would use unusual ingredients that are rarely found in food items (such as tuberose in my White Potion truffles and chocolate bars, or ambrette seeds in my Zangvil tea). I also love to play with different cultural aromas and textures or techniques, and fuse them together (i.e.: flavouring shortbreads, which are a very classic British tea accompaniment) with a fresh flavour such as Yuzu (Japanese citron), or with saffron (a Persian favourite).
I’m sure that my work as a perfumer greatly improved my cooking skills. I was more of a baker before, and that’s where my creativity came around. My cooking was very down to earth, simple and with an almost steady menu that rotated based on seasons. It’s only in the last 2-3 years that my cooking has become more creative — some books really inspired it, as well as cooking with one of my brothers, who lived in Vancouver for a while. I’ve become more aware and interested in the locally grown and foraged food, so my interest in food is also part of a lifestyle change — doing my part to support local farmers and promote sustainable living.
«Necessity is the mother of invention» — and I can’t agree with this more. To cook with the very limited produce that’s around here in the winter and spring — you need to be creative. I used to go to the grocery store or market with a shopping list. Now I cook the other way around — bring what’s fresh and seasonal home, and than try to find recipes — or invent ones — so I can use up what’s on hand. It’s really fun and I have created some of my favourite dishes this way.
When I cook, it’s a lot more simple than creating a perfume. For flavouring, I’d use far less number of ingredients, so they can really stand out (especially in desserts) and not overshadow their «base» — aka the dough, or cream, or custard, etc. There are so many other elements that add complexity to a dish or a dessert — such as the visual appearance and texture — that I think of them as part of the whole, and won’t necessarily add more «notes» like I would when constructing a perfume. To me cooking and baking is more relaxed and more like playing, while perfume is a lot more contemplative and requires far more concentration. But both require a great deal of intuition and living in the moment — which is what I love the most about them!
Anastasia Denisenkova: You offer chocolate bars and truffles as well as teas named after your perfumes — on your site and at your wonderfully designed tea parties, too. Is it difficult to recreate a perfume in a new edible form? Do you use same ingredients or alternative ones?
Ayala Moriel: Yes, both the teas and the chocolates began as a perfume. The process of «translating» them into the tea or chocolate medium was tedious and lengthy, and required the expertise of a tea master and a chocolatiers. Naturally, there are far less ingredients in the teas and the chocolates, as to not overwhelm the palate. No one really wants to eat a perfume!
The palate is a lot more sensitive and if it’s too strong and perfumey it would not be perceived as edible; not to mention that it would just be too chaotic to taste or enjoy. So we had to strip the perfume into its barest elements that would delight the taste buds and complement and highlight the medium of chocolate and tea.
Anastasia Denisenkova: I remember you once wrote that you were going to use ylang ylang as part of the food for the first time? What was the result?
Ayala Moriel: For my last tea party for Valentine’s Day 2013, I created dark chocolate truffles with organic ylang ylang oil, and with crème de cassis liquor. It turned out fantastic! Really fruity, bursting with flavour, but also with very many subtle nuances that made me appreciate ylang ylang even more as a note on its own right. Ylang ylang is often referred to as «poor man’s jasmine», which is a shame. Just because an ingredient is affordable does not make it «cheap smelling». Ylang ylang, if harvested and distilled correctly, is an elegant, complex and multi-faceted raw material. It’s worthy of being the centre stage which rarely happens. There are many variants in ylang ylang oil, as it is most commonly extracted in «fractions» — extra, 1st, 2nd and 3rd — parts of the oils are removed and bottled separately at intervals. Ylang Ylang «Complete» is usually just the 1st and 2nd grade combined, as they are the least popular (most perfumers prefer the extra and 3rd fractions). The most appealing qualities of ylang ylang are its intoxicating heady aroma, floral yet also fruity, due to methyl anthranilate, and which is reminiscent of that of gardenia, orange blossom and tuberose. It should also be creamy, almost coconutty, with hints of dry, suede-like woody finish. If it’s not all of these, it’s just not a good specimen. But don’t judge all ylang ylangs just because the first one you met is a bad quality…
My next challenge would be to create a truffle based on my Autumn perfume, with ylang ylang and cumin…!
Anastasia Denisenkova: Sounds intriguing! What rules do you follow when you use aromatic essences in food? What is safe and what may be not?
Ayala Moriel: First of all: you must use top quality oils, and preferably organic, when using them for food.
Secondly, use them only in fatty foods, because essential oils on their own can be too strong for your stomach (especially spice oils!). An oil helps to use a coating that will protect your stomach. That’s why I mostly use essential oils in desserts — chocolate and truffles have both cocoa butter and heavy cream in them. In shortbread cookies there is plenty of butter. I won’t recommend using them in a broth or in beverages, as they will float to the top and will burn your lips. I’m also reluctant to use them in dressings, even though it’s an emulsion, unless you make a really big batch. Imagine — if 2 drops of ginger was too much in a pumpkin pie recipe (with about 3.5 cups of custard) — what would one or two drops do to a vinaigrette with only 1 cup of oil and lemon juice or vinegar…
Third and also very important: I use only the littlest amount needed to create an effect. Essential oils are potent! If you use too much you can’t take it out. So add only one drop at a time. When I create a recipe for a new truffle or a pastry, I use one drop at a time and taste them in between. Keep in mind that each drop represents massive amounts of plant matter. For example: if you’re «just» adding one more drop of rose absolute, it’s like adding at least 7 rose flowers; and with rose oil it’s even more! You really don’t want more than a dozen roses in your dish. Trust me on that…
Anastasia Denisenkova: What are your favorite ingredients for perfumed food and why?
Ayala Moriel: Rosewater and orange flower water are timeless, and growing up in the Middle East they are very delightful and also nostalgic addition to desserts — and even salad dressing and marinades! Not to mention they are readily available and easy to use as they are water-based (so no need to worry about safety here, and you can use them in drinks as well).
New favourites are locally available botanicals that I forage from the forest:
Fir needle tips — the very young buds of Douglas Fir (or other conifers with a citrusy underrate, such as spruce). They can be used in teas, to infuse your broth to make a delightful spring risotto.
Elderflowers — I use these to make cordials and tinctures, to be used as a refreshing tonic for summer picnics, or in cocktails.
Anastasia Denisenkova: I should go to a forest some day :) Has flavored food ever inspired you to create a perfume? (Oh let me guess, what about Immortelle l’Amour?)
Ayala Moriel: Sahleb was directly inspired by a Middle Eastern dessert-beverage of that name. The food-association for Immortelle l’Amour was an afterthought. It really began with immortelle absolute as the focal point, and a broken heart. And Finjan was inspired directly from Turkish coffee — dark roasted, with the addition of cardamom and a ton of sugar. I «sweetened» my perfume with honey and vanilla absolutes. Black Licorice is a little less exotic, perhaps, with a very obvious inspiration — it was originally designed for a friend who just adored it, and even though it’s known to be a «love it or hate it» flavour, I’m still surprised at how much love it gets.
Anastasia Denisenkova: Well, I am happy to hear that about Black Licorice as I personally am kind of crazy about this perfume.
My hearty thanks to you, Ayala, for sharing your brilliant perfume and culinary stories and giving us extremely inspiring ideas for fragrant cooking! Now we all know how fragrant and creative food can be, don’t we? :)
Bon fragrant appétit to you all!
P.S. Also come visit Ayala Moriel Parfums site — you’ll find a lot of beauties there.