Scents of Plates
Updated: Jan 28
Image courtesy Tessa Liebman: Methods and Madness Decay Dinner with Guerilla Science
"Cured and Charred" quick cured mackerel; charred scallion, leek ash, kimchee vinaigrette, stonecrop as part of the menu for the 2 night pop-up Decay dinner with Guerilla Science
You are sitting in your room, study, office or bedroom, and someone starts cooking. Ten feet from you, one floor below you, regardless you smell the food. Your mouth salivates, and you consider where is this from? What is it? Can I eat it now? In 20 minutes? In an hour? While the numbers are not substantiated, scientists and philosophers gather scent makes up anywhere from 75% to 91% of the process of eating. It is so major, that if we lose our sense of smell, we lose the lock, key and entire system of joy in eating.
Food scent is aroma. Aroma is used to describe something ingested/imbibed. And because such a large portion of our eating is dedicated to scent, one might consider a chef to be a culinary designer of scent. Scattershot perfume is normally not invited to the dinner table - it interferes with the enjoyment and understanding of food as prepared by a chef. That said, it’s possible for food to be inspired by fragrance, and for fragrance to be inspired by food.
Chefs have been living tightly in their domain, as have perfumers - it’s time to collaborate, cross-germinate and interdisciplinary the moment. Consumers have become savvy, and while we may not call ourselves chefs or perfumers, we can certainly call out the chef on the Splendid Table that interchangeably calls for “whatever grain you can find”, “farro” or “barley” etc - all of which have enormously different olfactory components that have been ignored for the sake of a broad audience.
Tessa Liebman is US-based chef and artist that has been comfortably blurring lines between food and fragrance for years with her project Scents of Plates. As an executive chef in catering she has been asked to create large events inspired by perfumers’ dossiers which inspired her to further investigate and collaborate with perfumers. Grabbing the citrus, the base notes, the middle notes, she creates beautiful experiences respecting the perfume’s inspiration, by using her culinary knowledge of what would please and inspire the diners.
Over the years Tessa has uncovered her own path as an artist, with the background and knowledge of a chef. She has since collaborated with artists who were trying to present experiences crossing into all the senses, and now has several such experiences in planning and has executed over this trying period of COVID.
Image courtesy Tessa Liebman: Methods & Madness x Anne McClain of MCMC Fragrances
Welcome cocktail based on the fragrance LOVE by Anne McClain:
LOVE-Intense and spicy top notes of Japanese yuzu citrus, French sweet basil and Chinese magnolia oil grow into the burning intensity of ancient templewood and gunpowder.
Los Amantes Mezcal Joven; muddled basil leaves, yuzu juice, basil seeds, lime
It is clear that the absence of people has hit the world of hospitality in a big way. Tessa has found intimate and innovative ways to connect with an audience with her fragrant and culinary projects such as creating a series of Multisensory Experience Kits based on concepts and fragrance ideas like smoke in religion, ritual, medicine, magic and modern perfumery; her most recent was titled “50 Words for Snow.” Depending on where you live, if you own a dog, how cold you are, and how much you need covered up, the smell of snow is somewhat of a moral compass. I was excited to receive a partial piece of the project, that was not only edible, it was delightful. I don’t love sweets and she has managed to create some that are scent and not sugar forward, and apropos to the snow season. The project highlighted people recording and valuing experience and assigning language to things we care about/are affected by. In general Tessa’s project was about paying attention and naming the many words for snow, much like we realize there are not enough words for scent.
Image courtesy Tessa Liebman: from the Multisensory Experience Kit, "Total Smoke Show"
For the Odorbet, it was challenging to find words directly related to scent in the kitchen. We were not looking for the usual suspects “this smells strong, sweet, salty or burnt” - we were looking for more words that made it obvious how nose participation was crucial. Tessa sent words that were extraordinary and relevant to her practice: as a chef and artist we long for the connection with an audience an many of the words she shared reflected this. So many of her words were about absence – right now we are not allowed to eat collectively, we miss many scents of usual food haunts, and wevcan’t share similar scent experiences when it comes to food.
Here is the installation we’ve come up with, in honor of Tessa’s chef/art practice and for all of the people who have found joy in connecting scent, food and art with an audience. A big hug of hope that we can soon meet and enjoy the art, scent and taste of your beautiful work.
Scentual Translator: Using scent and all of the senses with the intention on an idea, a story or philosophy.
Frances Cathryn of WIP Projects originally coined this term to describe Tessa’s work because she was translating the stories/concepts of artists from one sense to another; in the case of perfumers from olfactory to gustatory.
Olfactimer - Using your nose to know when food is cooked/ready/overcooked ( consider also Sensometer).
Olfactimer is based off a conversation Tessa was having with (fellow chef) Ana (Ortiz) where they were talking about being in the kitchen and how you have to use all of your senses. Tessa says, “It is something that has always kept me from burning out and leaving the kitchen entirely. Grounding into the sensuality and opportunity to engage with different textures, colors, smells and use them as clues to what was needed from me as a collaborator with/manipulator of the material presented. Did this fruit need as much sugar as another fruit even of the same variety? Was that soup making too much noise boiling and need the flame turned down? Did I smell the sugar turning too bitter in the caramel? Bread burning?”
Aromaghost—The smell of something or someone you are missing (consider also Aromabscence).
An aromaghost may be created purposely in order to conjure up that which is missed. As a chef and as people who love food, we all miss the unmistakable smells of restaurants and gathering spaces (e.g. citrus notes from the bar kissing the exhaust from a wood burning stove). Aromaghost is not to be confused with phantom odor perception, which is an actual medical term where 1 in 15 adults over age 40 in the United States report smelling things that have no source. This type of phantom odor perception might indicate an underlying health issue.
About Tessa (@scentsofplates):
Tessa Liebman has been cooking for over 15 years in her hometown of New York City. She is currently a caterer, private chef, content and event producer specializing in conceptual, immersive dining experiences. Her work with perfumers and scent inspired her to create the series SOP (Scents of Plates) where she translates sense-based concepts often including the work of perfumers into multi-sensory food experiences. She has done pop-up dinners in New York, Detroit, London and Mexico City. For more info see:
Partial client list for catering: The Clark Art Institute, 601 Artspace, On Stellar Rays Gallery, MAISON 10, Chelsea Music Festival, Euphorium Brooklyn, No. 6 Store, Guerilla Science, Simons Foundation, ioby, Board of Education of New York State, Sfumato Fragrances, RHIE Studio, Psyop, BYREDO Perfume and the PEN Foundation
Image of Tessa Liebman courtesy the artist, @scentsofplates