And now for another edition of Up Close and Personal with Chef Paul.
I like to smell my food. I really like to smell my food.
Many a time I can remember a coworker looking at me in great wonder as I opened a Snickers bar and gave a whiff before devouring the masterful munchie in only a few bites.
Sure, it may seem bizarre to some, but if you only knew the trammel in which I found myself a mere handful of years ago, it would make sense.
As many people have speculated, our region is a hotbed of allergen activity. If you didn’t have any allergies prior to living here, there is a good chance that they will develop over your years of residence.
I won’t offer any conjecture as to why this might be the case, but I have heard it from several sources, at least two of which are well-embedded in the medical field.
About four years ago, something terrible happened to me as a chef; I started to notice that I was losing my smell and taste due to my allergies. No matter the regimen of medicine, nasal sprays or nose-rinsing pots or it was getting continually worse.
It progressed to the point where I could not even smell the spiciest Thai curry or foulest rotten fish on the beach. My smell was gone. With my smell gone, I had to learn how to sense certain tastes on my tongue, but these were limited to sweet, bitter and salty. And, again, these were only sensations of the taste, not the taste itself. Confusing; I know.
At wits end, I tried a number of doctors and allergy testing to no avail, even travelling to Baltimore to a world-renowned research institute with no positive end. I was told that I would spend the rest of my days without smell or taste, so you can imagine the panic.
My wife, never one to back down from a medical challenge, found a doctor in Easton, Dr. Lawrence Schieken, who is an allergy specialist who teaches at Maryland and Hopkins while he runs multiple allergy clinics throughout the area.
After vigorous testing and three months of regular allergy shots, my taste and smell returned. I have adhered to my regimen of weekly shots ever since, and to date it has worked wonders. [Hopefully this article doesn’t put any voodoo on my successes]
To go from one end of the spectrum to another in such a short period of time was enthralling to say the least, especially after being told by a leading doctor that the game was up. This brings us to the point of the story; that of smelling food.
Let’s look at smelling our food from a purely pragmatic standpoint. Without this sense, it is difficult to protect ourselves from tainted foods that could be noticed if by smell alone. This alone makes our under-appreciated olfactory amigo someone we’d like to keep around.
From the culinary standpoint, I missed the spiciness of curry, the sweet and mellow tones of chocolate and the smell of a full-bodied red wine. The sublime aroma of a pot roast was lost on me for years, and I yearned to ascertain whether the salmon at the store smelled ‘off’.
When my smell had returned, I made an unconscious habit of smelling things as though I had never smelled them before. It was a rather amazing experience and still is today as I look through my refrigerator to see what to make for lunch.
I realize that I want a salad; I know that it’s not summer and that a cooling salad is gauche, but it just sounds good.
Finding (and smelling) some curried chicken left over from a couple of nights ago, I pick it and make a pleasant sweet and savory chicken salad to serve on a bed of greens.
Finishing this with a roasted tomato relish (using its juices as an impromptu dressing) the salad fits the bill. It smells great, it looks great, and it will help to offset the burger I ate on Friday; all in all, a fine lunch.
To think that it would have been nothing more than sustenance to me, had my smell not been returned, makes me all the more willing to smell all of my food, all of the time.
2 c. Leftover Chicken (grilled, curried, jerk, etc.)
¼ c. Fine diced celery
¼ c. Fine diced onion
¼ c. Craisins, whole
Mayonnaise as needed
1 Tbsp. Dijon
1 Tbsp. Sugar (optional)
1 Tbsp. Sherry vinegar
S&P to taste
Obviously, if the chicken is still on the bones, remove them prior to eating. Break chicken into ½” to 1” chunks, or a size of your choice
Combine ingredients well and allow the flavors to marry, at least one hour. Overnight is better, but who has that kind of foresight?
Serve on a bed of lettuce with chopped vegetables, bleu cheese and Roasted Tomato Relish.
Roasted Tomato Relish
1 pt. Grape tomatoes
6 thin slices red onion
EV Olive Oil to coat
Salt and Pepper as needed
Sherry vinegar as needed
Sugar to taste(optional)
Coat the tomato and onion in oil, season with salt & pepper and roast at 450° until they burst
Cool in icebox
Remove and toss with vinegar and sugar to taste