24. October 2011
This Septemeber, a cook book hit German shelves that offered so much more than just another recipe collection. British author Niki Segnit tested 99 different foods on their compatibility with each other, categorizing them into flavors like “mustardy”, “earthy” or “sulphurous” and proceding to form wild combinations, like caviar and white chocolate, where, according to Segnit, the caviar's salty taste emphasizes white chocolate's sweetness. Eggs and coconuts may seem like an awkward combination in these parts, but in Southeast Asia, they've been combined in the popular breakfast spread “Kaya”. This and much more awaits readers in Segnit's compilation, which stretches across 544 pages and also includes a list of recipes. Yet the author's main goal lies in training readers' gustatory senses and raising a lust for culinary experimentation.
Your book's concept is unprecedented on the cook book market.
I have no idea why nobody has written about flavour combinations before. There's almost nothing written about flavour other than text books for the flavour and fragrance industry - that's why the research for this book took so much work.
How long did it take to write the book?
You introduce 980 combinations in total. Did you try all of them yourself?
No - unfortunately my advance didn't cover testing of truffles, lobster and caviar etc. But I did try most of them, especially the unsual combinations.
What's your favorite flavor combination?
I'm a great fan of the classics, but while researching the book I had my first try of strawberry & cinnamon, watermelon & pork, and green capsicum & egg, all were wonderful.
Some products seem to be missing. Where'd you leave the zucchini?
A flavor thesaurus that included every single flavor would have been to inconcise and impractical. I left out all important carbohydrates except for potatoes and most popular herbs. Every book about taste is going to remain somewhat subjective and because I write about the combinations I myself find most interesting, gaps are bound to come up.
Speaking of taste. Most people like sweet, sour and salty. Why are bitter tastes so unpopular?
Most adults do like bitter - coffee, dark chocolate, grapefruit, broccoli are all pretty popular. We tend not to like any extreme taste other than sweet, and even then we don't tend to eat spoonfuls of plain sugar.
Do you have a more alert sense of taste than other people?
I do now. I'm more aware of flavour, more practised at tasting and, most importantly, better at describing it
You write that cooking with a cook book is like repeating sentences from a phrase book. Will readers really be better chefs with your book?
Yes, because the readers should engage intellectually with what they are doing rather than doing what they're told. And many tell me they've become better at improvising which is very satisfying, especially when you have produce to use up.
Do I need to be an expert to make use of your book or does it speak to beginners as well?
The book has sold over 100,000 copies in the UK, from cooking newbies to experienced chefs. I've even been told by people who HATE cooking that they enjoy reading it just for greed's sake.
Niki Segnit: The Flavor Thesaurus.
544 pages €25,00