Gastronomy, as those of us who "live to eat" well know, is the art and practice of selecting, preparing, serving, and above all, "enjoying" fine food. And yes, enjoying fine food really does take a bit of practice. Only a small portion of our population are "super tasters," and chefs are no more or less taste/flavor sensitive than most people.
Our daily discipline requires us to mindfully develop a taste memory and to concentrate on consciously distinguishing levels of basic taste and flavor. This process of frequent tasting and analyzing is our key to recreating finished dishes with consistency. Far from drudgery, discipline of this sort can be quite enjoyable.
For those of you who share my interest in taste, allow me to share with you the latest taste sensation that has many of my fellow chefs and gastronomes buzzing with delight.
St. Germaine is an amazing new artisanal liqueur from France that has taken the "spirit" world by storm. Not to be confused with elderberry wine, which is made from fermented elderberries, St. Germaine is distilled in small batches from handpicked elderflower blossoms. It has what has been described as a curious mix of flavors that will keep you guessing as you attempt to discern alternate hints of grapefruit and lemon, pear and passion fruit, and even honey and lychee. For the true gastronome, seasoned veteran, and aspiring novice alike, St. Germaine's flavor profile offers a taste experience unlike anything else, beautifully balanced between flowery, sweet, and acidic. Subtle yet bold at the same time.
Chefs Elaine Sikorsky and Peggy Ryan, my esteemed colleagues at the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, introduced me to this exquisite liqueur and are equally excited about its entry and further applications in the culinary world. Needless to say, their palates are well educated. Chef Elaine experienced a "peaceful" taste from her first sip of St. Germaine and noticed an elusive yet familiar flavor like a white spring flower that she couldn't quite name. Chef Peggy, recalling the taste of elderberries from her youth, said it made her feel happy and safe.
Apart from tasting St. Germaine straight up, you might want to try it in the St. Germaine cocktail. Here's how to make this superbly refreshing drink.
Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wis. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.