A report in the Times last week – buried under the news from America – was all about current British food fashions and forecasts, as reported by the Waitrose analysts. Health and efficiency is – naturally – key: but so, too, is an interesting appreciation and cultivation of a sense of smell. So, seaweed, cactus water and coconut flour are among the hard-hitters now trending. And it seems that Polynesian cuisine is going to be the next big sensation, the taste of 2017. Vegetable yoghurt will be all the rage; also promised – thrillingly – are perfume-themed cocktails.
I felt quite intoxicated by the idea of a Polynesian diet – so, the other evening I went down to my nearest ethnic eaterie. I rang the bell. The menu was rich and evocative: including chicken long rice; lomilomi (that means “massaged”) salmon; kalua pork; and masses of poi, both leaf and root. The scent and taste of the islands. All that succulent golden aromatic fruit exhaling honey dew and sunlight. Crackling roasts basted in coconut oil and brought to table wreathed in tiare flowers. (Thoughts of cultural appropriation recrudesce but are rapidly dismissed*). No wonder that early western visitors to the Pacific islands thought they had reached the outer shores of Paradise. Sailors reared in the slum rookeries of London and Toulon were ravished by the unknown and delicious scents floating out to their ships from the mountains and lagoons of “the new Cytherea”. I once sailed out from Galway on a warm spring morning to the Isles of Aran: the perfume of spring flowers – violets, cowslips, bluebells – drifted over the water to the ferry passengers with amazing power and radiance. This is a singular beautiful phenomenon – the fragrance of a new land sweeping over the salty billows like an ambassadorial suite. Our CORSICA FURIOSA is a perfume that presents Napoleon’s birthplace thus: rain-drenched minty lentisticus, honey and tomato leaf. TULUM is a garland of roses, limes and mangoes, thrown down by the old Aztec gods from a sapphire sky into the Yucatan Caribbean. Come by one day soon, and try.
But to return to the newspapers. What strikes me most in these dietary ruminations is the comforting reflection that we at Les Senteurs have always been – and still are – very much in the van of style & fashion. We have – thank goodness – our fingers on the pulse of the Zeitgeist. We are currently looking at all kinds of cacti though we may not plant them in our perfume nursery quite yet. We are awash with coconut and seawater. Last month our Egeria collaborated with the Daily Mail on a feature celebrating the cocktail as perfume and vice versa. Right back in 2012 we had hosted a Valentine’s Event to explore this same intriguing theme. Like ancient shamans and wizards, our minds are opened and stimulated by the divine fog of fragrance in which we spend our days. Mind reading and telepathy are in the air, especially in this super-weird year. Like the Sibyl at Delphi, we inhale the scents which exude from the innards and skin of Mother Earth to be caught in a thousand bottles. We have heard and tasted – merely metaphorically, mind! – the Shrieking Mandrake.¤
Some seers look into the future by gazing into a bowl of water which blooms with visions of things to come. Some perfumers refresh their noses by inhaling from vessels of clear cold water. We use coffee beans for this at Les Senteurs: not maybe as picturesque but more practical. Water needs endlessly replacing as it becomes corrupted with scent; just as in the prophet’s dish it is clouded and disturbed with jostling phantoms.
As to the coming use of vegetables in yoghurt: it’s about time. We most of us enjoy yoghurt as a marinade and a dressing. Some of us have experimented with it on the skin, as a purifying masque and moisturiser. Most foods can be applied both within and without. Centuries ago this was also true of perfumes. Different foods feed different parts of the body – helping us to see in the dark; to fade freckles; to nourish our brains; to make our hair curl. Taste and smell are inextricably linked in the human sensory system. That old Polynesian poi root, when cooked, will eagerly absorb all surrounding odours and flavour. Perfumes which celebrate food have long since moved on from the traditional accords of cake, chocolate and cream. Gourmand flowers are now all the go: a return to the eighteenth century idealisation of feminine beauty as rose petals laid in cream. From the kitchen garden come carrot, cucumber, celery, coriander, cumin – and a vast range of herbs – all extensively used in perfumery¤¤. Some of the more intense and earthy tuberoses carry a powerful suggestion of their own tubers – and of sacking, soil and humus. There is a whiff of a fine cabbage-leaf cigar in Killian’s LIGHT MY FIRE ; and of course, botanically, the divinely scented velvet wallflower is a cabbage-cousin. I have waited years for the honeyed smell of bean flowers to grace the perfumers’ palate: the overwhelming redolence of broad beans in bloom. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Finally, it’s a funny thing but no sooner do we take on a new scent referencing the Marquis de Sade – ATTAQUER LE SOLEIL – than it all hatches out at Penguin Books, too. One of de Sade’s tales is being prepared in a new English translation. Apparently it caused a ruckus at the publisher’s. One of the translators said it made him feel physically sick – “upsetting to read and edit”. The editor at Penguin wept when presented with the final version.¤¤¤ So you might want to have another gander at the perfume which is fascinating and compelling but not, we think, traumatic. Mind you, I’ve always been very very wary of that old Marquis myself.
The old year fast fades but everything at Les Senteurs is wonderfully new and fresh in spirit. See you soon.
* to coin a phrase of the great E.M.Delafield.
¤ years ago we sold Annick Goutal’s celebration of the weird root – MANDRAGORE. “And its carton was gleaming in purple and gold”. We still heed Pierre Guillaume’s advice to taste perfume on the tongue.
¤¤ ANGELIQUES SOUS LA PLUIE – the smell of gentle February rain on a walled kitchen garden.
¤¤¤ See The Times 5.11.2016 – for full report & enthusiastic Editorial.