OVER the last few weeks, Nicolas de Barry has been putting three top chefs in the country to a perfumed test. The French diplomat turned perfumer is a genius when it comes to pairing food with fragrances and is no stranger to India. His first visit here was 14 years ago with his wife, when he stopped over in Pondicherry before travelling to Kerala, Goa, Hampi, Rajasthan, Agra and New Delhi via road and rail. A fan of the natural scents in Mysore and Kerala in particular, De Barry was back to write three reports for a magazine, which also included royal and Ayurvedic influences. He has since written plays and books and recreated famous natural fragrances like Empress Sissi and George Sand. Now in Chennai to curate a four-course scented dinner with Taj Coromandel’s executive chef, Alok Anand, De Barry admits this is an experience to be savoured and digested with ‘‘an open mind.’’
Smell the taste
De Barry has just completed two such plated experiments at Taj properties in Delhi and Kolkata and, when not exclaiming over the beautiful women in our country, takes us through his Chennai menu. Expect combinations like sweet potato with vetiver, pan seared scallops and sandalwood, braised artichoke with vanilla and neroli scented ricotta. Sensual rose stars in a strawberry sorbet and the inevitable jasmine is paired with dark chocolate and frogurt. I am keen to find out if the grilled ‘New Zealand lamb rack with frangipani’ marriage will last. Chef Anand admits that it hasn’t been easy, having to experiment with 28 essential oils and absolutes sent by De Barry ahead of his visit.
With the fragrance having to skirt both ‘strong’ and ‘amorphous’, pairings like jasmine-fish or the use of cinnamon were discarded along the way. The urbane De Barry, who has a PhD in Sociology and Politics, talks about retronasal olfaction (smelling food after it’s in the mouth) and recalls a pleasant surprise at an earlier dinner – green pine with foie gras. Whether the evening’s exercise will result in an imaginary flacon filled with an exotic fragrance that is as big a success as Jean Patou’s Joy (De Barry’s jest, not mine) remains to be seen. He only asks that you relish the experience, with all senses.
The four-course dinner with wine is Rs. 4,500. Details: 66002827
— Rosella Stephen