As far as collaborative projects go, perfumer Mandy Aftel and chef Daniel Patterson totally nailed it with Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance. More of an inspiring manual than a cookbook, the down-to-earth text provides comprehensive information on making fragrance and enhancing food with 27 aromas—from classics like green tea to the intriguing litsea cubeba, distilled from a Chinese fruit.
The brilliance of Aroma is that it provides a good handful of things to do with each featured ingredient, a number of which are readily available at the grocery store. And they’re not all elaborate, hours-in-the-kitchen concoctions, either. In addition to basic dressings and sauces that can be kept for weeks or months, each section begins with simple suggestions for using a fragrance “in the everyday kitchen.” Adding a few dashes of rosewater to frozen strawberries, vodka and seltzer is a particular favorite.
But really every recipe I’ve tried has been phenomenal — whether it was straight from the book or adding to a tried-and-true favorite. I don’t care for lavender, but it does amazing things to shortbread. When I made sweet onion–rosemary soup and pan-fried potatoes with saffron-garlic mayonnaise for dinner, my husband said, “This is, like, restaurant food.” Even some not-so-fresh napa cabbage was excellent when steamed with mint leaves and halibut.
The fragrance recipes include full-blown liquid perfumes with quite a few notes, but there are also numerous entry-level items like Saffron, Ginger, and Blood Orange bath salts and Orange Flower and Sandalwood face mist. These are elegant in an Aftelier-does-Jo-Malone kind of way, and if you’ve been cooking up a storm then you already have a good handful of the ingredients. Aroma certainly isn’t meant to be an in-depth resource for fragrance making, but it shows how to borrow from the pantry in some really clever ways. I never would have thought to use truffle oil in solid perfume; when cool weather arrives I’ll be living in White Truffle and Blood Orange. In the meantime, balsamic–black truffle vinaigrette breathed new life into summer salads, and a splash of truffle oil has taken kale chips (my own recipe) to a new level of addictiveness.
Although Aroma is currently out of print, it's easy to find online. If you love to play in the kitchen, and especially if you do handmade gifts for the holidays, this book is a must. But even if you live on a few easy-to-prepare items Aroma is still very much worth a look. It’s amazing what a difference a few drops of essential oil can make.
Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance
By Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson. 216 pp.
Artisan, 2004. $30.
Note: a copy of this book was provided for review.