Whether eating, cooking, or creating a cocktail, the art of learning how to methodically taste all the elements of a dish can be something that lasts a lifetime and can be used daily. Try following this outline taught to me by a renowned Hungarian Chef.
Let me explain. First, you must learn how to interpret what you are tasting and then you can enhance and perfect the taste. This same procedure can be used when creating a dish or a cocktail to make sure that it is well-balanced, full-bodied, and has flair.
Think about it as an artist would create a painting: The background of the picture is the depth or the base of dish, the middle ground is the storyline, or flavor accents, and around the edge (and sprinkled throughout) are the highlights. The highlights give style and personality to the dish while dancing around and giving sizzle to the finished piece. Then lastly, think about tying this all together as an exciting work of art.
This is really what the art of being able to taste is about: The ability to analyze each dish as you finalize it prior to service! Sounds easy, right? So, let’s start with the depths of the dish that is created by the base flavor. This can be tasted at the back of the mouth as a feeling of fullness. As you think about, and taste, the actual base flavor of the dish, consider the following: is it full enough, is it totally there by itself without any accents, or is it flat? This can be the type of stock you use when making soup. It can be the base drink when creating a cocktail. However, before you deal with the accents and highlights, you must have a full base; otherwise the resulting blend will be flat (like making soup with water versus stock.) To add substance to your base, try reducing the stock to make it stronger or add in bouillon. Do not skip this step. While it is true, you can add bouillon at the end, you are wasting your time, sorting out accent flavors if your base is flat to begin with. Once you are satisfied that your base is there and the background of your picture is solid and full, then you can start to work on the rest.
Now, we are ready to play with accents. These are usually tasted more in the center of the tongue. Some of these accents are introduced in earlier stages, such as onion, garlic, mustard, base-herbs, mushrooms, ginger, or leeks, perhaps. Now is the time to evaluate these, and add to them, making sure that you have a full flavor balance of these lighter hints. This middle tongue area can be one of the tougher levels. It is usually relatively easy to taste the base and the fullness, but creating that personality in the middle, can be more elusive.
Time for pizzazz! This comes at the front and outer edges of the tongue. Does it have life and excitement, or is it just a solid, flat flavor? Depending on your dish, this can be as simple as few drops of something acidic, sharp, spicy, tart, or other herbal “highlight” flavors. Combine them at a level where they don’t detract from the base painting, but will add life and excitement to what could be otherwise be a great (but slightly plain) dish.
Lastly, I cannot stress the importance of salt enough. Salt brings out the true flavors in any dish and should not result in “salty” food. Just add a little bit at a time until the taste potential is at its fullest. Salt it is the central and final part of any dish. Bringing the salt level to its peak will marry all those different flavors in perfect unison–a symphony of flavors.
You can, and should, have your own flavor style. Do it your way, but follow this roadmap, and you will create perfection every time!
Author, Chef Russ Blakeborough, is a Managing Director of Focus – F&B. Visit us at www.focus-fb.com for more information.
Russ Blakeborough is Managing Director at Focus F&B. Russ works to reimagine food and beverage at hotels and restaurants. We work on refreshing your current concept and creating steps for improvement. We have the tools and resources for cost-effective and immediate improvement.
Russ, originally from England, now resides in Savannah, Georgia, in the USA, and operates worldwide.