Scent: Wild As The Wind

The power of scent is terribly underrated by most of us.  Everyone longs for sensation — like the experience of when you see someone and it hits you like a thunderbolt as the Sicilianos call it.  Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful people in my day, but looks don’t seem to strike me with molto fortissimo. For me, our physical beauty is not nearly as seductive as our scent. I may look — I may admire — but I don’t really even wait to hear what they have to say until I get close enough the catch their scent. It took me a while to realize this because I’ve never been knocked-off my feet visually by anyone that walked through the door but I have found myself gravitating closer and closer to a person and breathing them in.   I breath in their sound, their spirit and their essence — that is what makes them lovely and beautiful to me — moreover, scent facilitates animal magnetism in its purest form and what could be more primal. It’s all about our scent. Breathing is what brings us to life.  An infant child, just minutes after birth and unable to focus, will crawl to find the mother’s breast — the attraction is to her scent and of her fragrant, sweet milk — it’s visceral.

So maybe, I’m an exception to the rule with this scent fettish. I have often heard chefs and food stylist say that we first feast with our eyes but I will argue that it is still scent that compels us to bite — to taste.  We swirl the wine in our glass up to catch the light and then place it directly above our upper-lip to breath it in — we let the wine  roll over our tongue and take another breath over the tongue into the soft palate to again inhale it’s concentrated essence before it glides down our throat and as it descends, we achieve that pleasurable, warm sensation.

As I walked through the Farmer’s Market today I was struck by the amazing aroma of the flat-leaf parsley as it warmed in the sun.  It didn’t make a dramatic entrance or necessarily catch my eye, but as I picked up a bunch, I realized that it was a bouquet of fragrance, a green goddess.  I closed my eyes and it transported me to the freshness of our California Mediterranean climate — to olive oil and tomatoes, crushed garlic and zesty lemon. It reminded me of a great party in Los Olivos, where my friend Renato Moiso, owner and chef of Santa Barbara’s Via Maestra 42 whipped up his creamy and rich M5 Risotto topped with finely diced parsley to emphasize the freshness of the warm California Sunday that brought everyone out for an amazing gathering. Like a bunch of pagans worshipping the first rays of the sun after days of rain, we festively imbibed while eating risotto sinfully saturated with the best wine and topped with this fresh, fragrant Italian parsley. Renato drew us in with the aromatics long before we ever saw the steam rising from the pan.

Scent ties events into our memory. It can take you back at a moment’s notice.  While coming of age with my best friend Amy, one of the things that she always brought to my attention, was the scent of certain people we knew.  “The first time I smelled Richard I loved him — I didn’t want to wash my hand — I found a bath oil that was similar to his scent and used it for months.  It was just sexy and attractive and he was electric to me. It was the first time that anyone had affected me like that — he had touched me for the first time,” she continued contemplating scents of lover’s past, “… and then there was Scott. There was the time Scott nearly asphyxiated me in his corvette from his cologne. Next time, he went for the cologne I practically panicked and dashed to grab it from him.  I was in serious respiratory distress that time.”  She recounted her first experience of Richard with thoughtful pauses, dripping with sensuality; after her second account, we couldn’t stop laughing.  But if memory serves me right,  Richard drove us both crazy with his wild sensuality and intensity — all that long hair — he looked right into you.  The way he used to slink across the floor on all fours like a cat right up to us used to leave me breathless.

Scent can have both beautiful and negative effects obviously but it always jogs the memory more powerfully than any of the other five senses. Scent can repel us or draw us together. It inspires us to cook, to create, to lust, to love.  Without scent, we cannot taste — we have no desire to do so.  The scent of wine, fresh herbs, an amazing risotto or a lover can rock us like a hurricane — it drives us wild. So love at first site?  Not in my experience. I breath it in and then possibly, it’s love at first bite. And this was all inspired by a fragrant, humble little bunch of parsley.  After a long cold and wet winter, Spring is definitely in the air and it’s time to warm it up with a little trip to the local farmer’s market and a good bottle of  California wine.

Renato Moiso is the Chef and Owner of  Via Maestra 42, 3343 State St, Santa BarbaraPhone: (805) 569-6522).

Margerum M5 can be purchased online at

Amel Larrieux’s Wild is the Wind:

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