The chefs, as perfumers, working immersed in a world of smells and scents. We asked the Chef Shaun Hergatt to talk about his olfactory universe and we have discovered ….
He grew up in the wilderness on a farm in rural Queensland, Australia in a culinary-oriented family. The australian Chef was enamoured with cooking and nature from a young age, and still today many of his dishes reflect the observations of the latter, and his childhood experience. After several years in Australia working like chef and receiving many prizes including an AHA “Best Young Chef” award, in 2000 Chef Hergatt moved to the United States and joined Atelier at The Ritz-Carlton, Central Park in New York City as chef de cuisine. In 2009, after several awards and after he worked five years like executive chef at The Setai in Miami, he open his eponymous restaurant, SHO Shaun Hergatt in the Financial District and he was recognized as “Best New Chef” by New York magazine. The restaurant received 2 Michelin stars, a 29 out of 30 Zagat rating across the board and “Best New Restaurant” accolades from Esquire and New York magazine. The new challenge of Shaun Hergatt is Juni opened at the end of 2013 and was awarded “Best New Restaurant” by Esquire Magazine where eeverything from cocktails to the interior, is a celebration of nature. The boutique restaurant, set within Manhattan’s Hotel Chandler, offers menus that are highly responsive to the many micro-seasons within a year, so ingredients may only feature for a few weeks, as long as the ingredients are in season, and then disappear from the menu. We interviewed Chef Shaun Hergatt to make us better explain the reason of his choice and how does the love of nature.
What is the first smell you recall smelling as a child? In my hometown we get a lot of humidity that builds up over days. Eventually this leads to a storm and really heavy rainfall and the air is filled with the smell of the coming rain. That smell reminds me so much of my childhood and the way I used to sit on the porch and watch the storm coming in, knowing that we would finally get some relief from the heat.
What was the last smell that you experienced? When I walked into the Juni kitchen this morning I was struck by the incredible smell of a bucket full of wild carrot blossoms that have been foraged by Evan.
What is the most unpleasant smell you’ve ever smelled? In Australia we have a type of beetle known as a ‘Stink Bug’ and they smell horrible! If they land on you, you end up with their smell left behind and it’s really difficult to wash off!
What smell makes your mouth water? One of my dishes is halibut served with dehydrated strawberries that have been dressed with citrus peel and infused with basil. I find that anything which has an acidic smell, like the smell of those strawberries, really makes my mouth water. Thai food also has the ability to make my mouth water because of the complexity of aromas.
Which foods do you not like the smell of? I really don’t like the smell of cumin when you cook with it. I don’t mind its taste but I think it creates a smell akin to body odour.
Have you ever eaten a dish that smelled amazing but did not live up to expectations in terms of flavour? Yes, this happens to me all the time. I think that pizza is often a good example of this. The smell of the garlic, tomato sauce and basil lead you to expect something that tastes incredible but you take a bite and realise that the tomatoes aren’t ripe, the basil isn’t very good and the pizza has a flat flavour. It can be a real let down.
What is your favorite spice in terms of smell? I really love cooking with star anise because it releases the most wonderful fragrance that has a liquorice quality with a sweet but savoury note and different levels of complexity depending on how long it is roasted for. It’s a really pleasurable smell. On the other hand, chilli is a spice that I find very aggressive and abrasive in terms of smell and it tends to burn on the palette and linger for too long.
Are there any ingredients that you don’t like to use in your cooking because of the smell it creates in your dishes? I really don’t like using caraway seeds because of a bad experience that I had with them as a child. My mum made a banana cake but accidentally put too many caraway seeds in the mixture and the taste and smell was really overpowering and aggressive. Ever since then, I’ve avoided eating them and they don’t feature in any of my dishes.
Which of your dishes is the most satisfying to you in terms of smell and why? My most aromatic dish is my Lobster with red curry sauce which has the fragrance of garlic chives, coconut, basil and coriander.
Which smell could you not do without? The smell of freshness! It comes in so many forms and different levels. I love the smell straight after a shower..
Which smells are evocative of memories for you? The smell of a bulla baking in the oven reminds me of my grandma baking bulla for special family occasions and of the feeling of waiting for it to be ready and knowing how fantastic it would be. That smell signalled an occasion at which the whole family would be together eating something that was so excellent and delicious. It was a joy for the entire family.
Can you think of two locations that you love because of their smell? What do these places smell of? Near where I grew up there is a beautiful waterfall called Kirribal Falls. It is surrounded by rainforest and very few people know about its existence, so I used to go there to have personal space or with friends to swim. The smell was something I cherished so much; it was so fresh and organic. The smell of the rainforest is very distinctive, it has a particular fragrance to it. Another place that has a really strong link to smell for me is the sea near where I grew up. I used to spend lots of time out on the reef and the smell of the sea there is so clear in my mind and has always been a part of my life.
Does your house have any distinctive smells? I have wood floors throughout my house and a reclaimed wood table so you can smell wood when you walk in. I also think my house smells of my two Pomeranians.
Do you use an aftershave or cologne? If so, which is your favourite and what does it smell of? I use Terre d’Hermes. It’s a complex fragrance with spicy overtones, which I really like because I don’t like fragrances that are overly sweet or floral, I find them really overpowering and uncomfortable to be around.