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.

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"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
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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