If you look at any of World Monuments Fund’s sites, it’s obvious that they are the result of the culmination of hard work, great creativity, and, above all, passion on the part of many. This was also the case with WMF’s June 26 scent dinner, where I was delighted to be one of the lucky attendees.
Pairing and collaboration is always an art, but it’s not for every artist. Despite the fact that they work in the realm of the sensual, the unity of work between a perfumer and a chef—and WMF—may not be, at first thought, logical. However, after listening to Carlos Huber talk about his fragrance collection inspired by historic places, and Chef Roberto Santibañez’s presentation on the creation of his menu, not to mention Chandler Burr’s more global and fascinating background (with samples!) on olfactory art, it all came together. After all, both Carlos Huber and Roberto Santibañez are artists whose work involves sharing their sensual creations with others, and gaining satisfaction from doing so. And so much of their work is based on a combining of flavors, textures, colors, and, of course, scents. The result? Diners, lucky enough to be seated in the home of artist Grimanesa Amorós, were dazzled by a rare and wonderful treat for all the senses.
We’ve all had that feeling. An aroma graces our nostrils and suddenly we are reminded of a time, place, or moment. Creating a marvelously positive olfactory experience was a driving force behind Carlos Huber, an architect specializing in historic preservation, who envisioned and succeeded in creating his line of perfumes, Arquiste.
So, after falling in love with the warm, brick-walled, hugely high ceilinged, and art-filled home of Grimanesa Amorós, as well as with her lovely husband and daughter—and sipping Casa Dragones tequila, or prosecco, guests were led through a majestic entrance way into the dining area. Oh—it’s important to note that the food preparation did not take place inside the apartment, but outside on the terrace. This was to give us all a cleaner olfactory “palate” as we entered the dining area.
Chef Roberto Santibañez is, first and foremost, an artist. This dinner seemed to represent his history. He pulled not only from the scent stories and notes below, but also from his native Mexican influences as well as his Parisian culinary education, and of course his many experiences around the globe. He blended delicate with heavier flavors, textures and temperatures, as well as colors, and created dishes that were—like the evening—total experiences. Each plate was a world of its own—and quite different from those he serves in his restaurants (FONDA in Brooklyn, New York, and Fonda, on Avenue B in Manhattan).
The first site inspiration: Catherine Palace, Tsarskoje Selo, Russia
The scent: Aleksandr, with key notes of neroli, violet leaf, fir balsam, and Russian leather accord.
The scent story: January, 1987, St. Petersburg, Russia:
“On a frosty winter afternoon, a fiery gentleman finishes his toilette by dabbing on a preparation of neroli and violet. He draws down his cuffs, dons a heavy fur, and strides out in polished leather boots. As he rides off on his sled, the woody scent of the fur fills the air beyond the snow-laden trees, on a clearing bathed in amber light, his fateful duel awaits.”
The dish: Sopa fría de pepino y albóndigas.
The first course was a cooling and deep cucumber and almond chilled soup, served with diced zucchini, venison meatballs, scented with tarragon, cognac, black pepper, and bay leaves.
The second site inspiration: WMF Jewish heritage sites in Italy
The scent: L’Etrog., with key notes of Calabrese cedrat, myrtle, date fruit, and vetivert.
The scent story: October, 1175, Calabria, Italy:
“In medieval Calabria, a family gathers to celebrate a good harvest. Within a cabin built of palm leaves and other woody branches, an aromatic bounty is presented. The citrusy scent of the etrog citron, a regional specialty, brightens the air while embracing myrtle and lush date fruit envelop the sweet warmth of the Mediterranean night.”
The dish: Bacalao con morisqueta de arroz al limón real y romero.
The second course was a flaky and smooth-as-as silk bacalao, steamed cod filet served over Michoacán-style risotto, scented with lemon zest and rosemary, topped with chopped pistachios and dates. Again, the contrast of flavors and textures—the savory and sweet, with the smooth and the crunchy, was magical.
The intermedio site inspiration: The central historic district of Mexico City, built atop the ruins of Tenochitlan, the fourteenth-century capital of the Aztec Empire
The scent: Flor y Canto, with key notes of Mexican tuberose, magnolia, plumeria, and marigold.
The scent story: August, 1400, Tenochitlan, Mexico:
“On the most fragrant festival in the Aztec calendar, the rhythm of drums palpitates as a wealth of flowers is offered on temple altars. Billowing clouds of copal act as a backdrop to the intoxicating breath of tuberose, magnolia, plumeria, and the intensely yellow aroma of the sacred marigold, cempoalxochitl.”
The dish: Torito intermedio.
During the intermedio; we stepped back beyond the majestic entrance into the living-room area to enjoy our break, and deeply balanced and iced cocktail: Rice water, peanut milk, aguardiente, grapefruit zest, and lime juice.
The third course site inspiration: Again, the central historic district of Mexico City, where the “royal” appellative of Jesús María is located
The scent: Anima Dulcis, with key notes of cocoa absolute, Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, and chili infusion.
The scent story: November 1695, Mexico City:
“The scent of exotic spices floats throughout the halls of the Royal Convent of Jesús Maria, where a group of nuns prepares a baroque recipe of cocoa infused with an assortment of chilies. After centuries of obscurity, the convent’s secrets are exposed in a rich experience for the senses.”
The dish: Pato en mole de ajonjoli y avellanas.
The third course was a Mexican-flavor festival: seared duck breast over roasted hazelnut mole with vanilla, smoky chipotle, cumin, and cloves. The buttery soft duck meat was complemented and enhanced by nut, vanilla, and sesame-flecked melt-in-your-mouth mole.
The scents: Fleur de Louis, with key notes of orange blossom, Florentine orris, jasmine, white cedar wood, and Infanta en Flor, with key notes of orange flower water, Spanish leather, citrus resin, immortelle.
The scent story: June 1660, Isle of Pheasants, Basque region on the French/Spanish border:
“To ensure peace between them, two royal courts converge at a richly-appointed pavilion built of freshly cut pine and cedar wood. From the French side, in a golden aura of iris, rose, and jasmine, emerges a young Louis XIV, all starched and composed, eager to catch a glimpse of his new bride, the Infanta María Teresa of Spain. Innocently perfumed with orange flower water, her powdery complexion blushes as the gallant king lays his eyes on her for the first time. She opens her scented fan, and steals a look back.”
The dish: Pastelito de almendra al azahar.
The dessert, an almond biscuit wet with orange blossom syrup, served with raspberry beetroot, and rose spirit ice cream, celery foam, and green chartreuse, was a delightful dance of sweetness, textures, and temperatures.
Happily sated, we all left Hudson Street with a newfound appreciation not only for WMF sites, but also for the artistic inspiration they evoke, and with the desire to see, taste, and smell more of Grimanesa Amoros’s, Chef Roberto Santibañez’s, and Carlos Huber’s work. Perhaps the evening will also push us to collaborate in realms that are beyond our usual bailiwick, hopefully with equally amazing results.
Note: Scent stories are from the WMF Scent Dinner guide, presented to guests present at the Tuesday, June 26th event.
Bacalao con morisqueta de arroz al limón real y romero