Like the four cardinal points, the principal flavorssalty, sweet, bitter and sourdefine taste’s field of expression. Like Cyrano de Bergerac, we’re entitled to feel that these categories may be insufficient when it comes to conveying the infinite shades of the aromatic palette and the emotions they trigger. The Japanese have added to this list the notion of umamiliterally “deliciousness”referring to that long-lasting, palate-coating and highly addictive flavor.
For a chef to be asked to describe what sweet is is no banal matter! In the collective imagination, sweetness is frequently associated with pastries, and evokes treats, indulgence and comfort. For me, the word conjures up memories from childhoodfloating islands with pink praline, chocolate shavings on buttered bread, freshly picked garden tomatoes, and peaches and apricotsthe characteristic fruits of the Drôme region.
Over the years, my approach to sweetness has sought out less direct paths. I think we can imagine a sweetness without the immediate impact provided by sugar, one synonymous with aromatic complexity, one that plays on bitter, pungent and tangy notes. For example, I serve my mille-feuille pastry with a milk froth infused with Voatsiperifery pepper. This highly fragrant pepper from Madagascar has a floral-citrusy flavor that deliciously prolongs and enhances the mille-feuille’s jasmine flower and vanilla accents.
I love the idea of very fragrant desserts that are only slightly sweet, their rich savor conveyed by the texture and combination of flavors. Spices, flowers, leaves, buds and aromatic plants are all flavor enhancers that I use in my creations. In a barley-pear-licorice dessert, the roasted, grilled, fermented, bitter, peppery and spicy notes complement each other. There are countless examples, because the playing field for mixing and matching flavors is boundless.