Chef Marcus Samuelsson breaks down the science of taste

When you have the opportunity to sit down and not only speak with Chef Marcus Samuelsson and pick his brain about how to make cooking exceptional, but then also get to enjoy a meal he's prepared ... there's no way you say no.

He showed us how to keep food "light and bright" last winter when cooking for the holidays (when food can often feel heavy), and now we're diving head-on into spring with the Chef's definition of what brings taste to life.

The event we attended, hosted by Pure Leaf Tea House Collection, was a truly unique experience. The evening's goal was to see what all the different elements of cooking bring to the table, per se, when it comes to taste. The four focus points? Fragrance, aesthetic, temperature and texture.

"Why and how we like something changes through these different elements," Marcus explained.

Marcus Samuelsson's taste event for Pure Leaf
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Marcus Samuelsson's taste event for Pure Leaf

Stop 1: Aesthetic

Created by Kamil Nawratil, founder of Brooklyn-based VolvoXLabs, a cutting edge media and visual design studio that creates digital sculptures and immersive audio-visual installations.

He brought to life light, movement and color in a completely interactive experience. 

Stop 2: Fragrance 

Created by Former New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, known for his expertise on how scent affects taste.

He took different unique scents and showed us how they combine to create common fragrances you'll recognize.

Stop 3: Temperature

Ice artist Shintaro Okamoto of OKAMOTO STUDIO in Queens, whose creativity and talent transforms crystal ice into frozen masterpieces.

He showed us the incredible beauty of ice, and the impact temperature can have on flavor. 

A scoop of sorbet, served in an ice bowl to keep it at the perfect temperature.

Stop 4: Texture 

Created by Charlie Baker, a sought-after builder known for his unique décor and designs that incorporate natural elements.

We were encouraged to look, feel, and take in the texture all around the room, inspired by the apples in the Fuji Apple & Ginger Green Tea. 

A close-up of the texture display.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson. 
The four teas on display and used throughout Chef Samuelsson's cooking. 
A few of the elements of the meal: Arctic Char. 
A few of the elements of the meal: Ceviche. 
A few of the elements of the meal: Duck. 
A few of the elements of the meal: Sicilian Sour cocktail. 

"If you eat or drink something really really cold, it has a completely different flavor," than if you'd had it warm, Marcus said. And the same goes for the other three elements as well. According to the brilliant former New York Times perfume critic and fragrance expert Chandler Burr, fragrance has the biggest impact on taste by a long shot.

Another big moment of the evening was an emphasis on a kind of surprise and delight when it comes to taste. A celebration of the unexpected.

"For me, unexpected pairings are a big thing -- a lot of us these days are experienced and have traveled the world, so it's harder and harder to surprise people," Samuelsson said.

While it may be harder to identify truly unusual ingredients (because, as Chef Samuelsson explained, what may have been a rare or unexpected flavor 10 or 20 years ago just isn't unusual anymore), people are even more excited about and open to interesting combinations.

"Now we see a high level of curiosity -- and there's definitely an audience for unique flavors. Otherwise, we'd drink and eat similar things, and we'd never evolve."

Marcus Samuelsson for Pure Leaf

Thanks to places like farmers markets, we have even better access to ingredients, too. "The average home today can cook with the same ingredients as chefs, so that makes consumers more interested in having experiences and more curious about flavors. And all of those things -- combined with the ability to find recipes on platforms like AOL to learn to cook and try new ingredients -- changes the palate in America in many ways."

And that's one of the big reasons Marcus has his partnership with Pure Leaf Tea House Collection, because he appreciates their level of curiosity and the commitment they've made to creating new, exciting and fun flavors.

We definitely appreciate it, too.

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