Tastes & Traditions
Lavender & Earl Grey
Monday, April 3, 2017
When looking for the sacred in daily moments, there’s no need to look further than a mindfully brewed cup of tea or a spray of fresh flowers. Tea-drinking developed in Eastern cultures through ceremonious, rigid performance, and it has embedded itself in European culture and custom through fastidious, quotidian use. All problems can be solved and all relationships strengthened over a cup of tea.
But whether hailed as a path towards spiritual awakening or simply a morning ritual that sets the tone for the day, drinking tea can aid us to savor moments of our routine and appreciate the present. Akin to the adage advising us to “stop and smell the roses,” these sensory experiences allow a peace and presence of mind that lets us appreciate life to the fullest. Taste, sight and smell are ignited with the natural simplicity found in flowers and tea. It’s no wonder that they’ve found their way into baking, too, where they add distinct dimension, flavor and feeling to each recipe.
Tea’s versatility draws out the earthy, floral, fruity, spicy and even smoky flavor profiles of standard desserts, whether the dry leaves are mixed into the ingredients or steeped for a more nuanced flavor. French, Asian and California cuisine have all experienced an increased prevalence of tea-inspired desserts and savory dishes, allowing chefs and bakers to play with the various flavor profiles and bring their dishes to the next level. The flavors are intriguing, and most importantly, unexpected; this allows chefs the “surprise and delight” factor in their cooking that keeps guests talking and brings in new audiences.
Countering tea’s versatility, lavender packs a robust punch with its fragrance and flavor profile, yet it is also beginning to stand alone as an herbal/spice component in both savory and sweet dishes. Edible flowers are a growing trend in culinary spaces. They add dimension for both the eyes and the taste buds, enhancing a chef’s offering for all sensory outlets. The edible flower trend is thought to have been derived from a general expanding interest in eating healthy and colorful food, along with the new wave of Nordic cuisine centered around foraging and repurposing herbs and plants that have long been ignored.
Chefs, mixologists and pâtissieres everywhere are embracing the farm-to-table trend, and taking foraging to new heights of authenticity by sourcing an evening’s menu earlier that same the morning. Virgilio Martinez rocketed his Peruvian restaurant to the pinnacle of success after leveraging Peru’s immediate terroir, and using interesting and unknown plants and herbs from different altitudes to allow guests to taste the land at each level. Similarly, Blue Hill Farm’s Dan Barber in New York sources his produce from the farm each morning, and LA mixologist Matthew Biancianiello forages his local surroundings to help corral farm-to-glass into the mainstream.
Like most modern, cyclical trends, tea and edible flowers were initially used in more heritage applications that centered on eating from the wild. Ironically, as we progress technologically, we tend to yearn for more bespoke and antiquated forms of production and produce that yield organic, natural outcomes. A general consumer disposition towards farm-to-table food and drink, and the incorporation of complex, natural ingredients in cooking and baking, appear to be on the rise as new culinary concepts scramble to keep up. This suggests that the trend of floral and tea-driven infusion in sweet and savory cuisine will continue to expand and develop in the years to come. Read more in this month's featured chef spotlight with Waylynn Lucas.
Tools for the Taste
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