Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Chef Who Couldn’t Taste

Molly Birnbaum was about to start cooking school when she lost her sense of smell. Instead she wrote about the science of scent—and learned why some strippers earn more and why Ben and Jerry’s tastes the way it does.

In her evocative debut book, Season to Taste, Molly Birnbaum recounts the experience of losing her sense of smell when a car ran her over one morning while she was out for a jog. She was 22 and due to start culinary school in just a few months. Unable to smell, essentially unable to taste, and unsure that she ever would recover, Birnbaum was forced to switch course.
She spoke to The Daily Beast about the science of smell and the art of finding her way.

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way  By Molly Birnbaum  320 pages. Ecco. $24.99

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way
 By Molly Birnbaum
320 pages. Ecco. US$24.99

You do such a vivid job in the book of conveying to the reader exactly what has gone missing in your life as a result of losing your sense of smell. But after the accident, did you struggle to convey the loss to the people around you?
It was difficult to explain. Smell is an invisible sense. No one could see it on me—I looked normal. At first, the only thing that bothered me about losing my sense of smell was the fact that I couldn’t taste, because I was training to be a chef and flavor was a huge part of my life.
So when I realized that I couldn’t smell, I was just devastated that food tasted monotone. But then as time went on, I began to worry about the memories that might be gone. Like my mother’s perfume had always brought back these very strong memories of childhood and home.
Or if it was a specific one that I bought for her from Italy, it was these memories of studying abroad. I realized there were all these memories that I’d once had that I didn’t know how to access anymore… I could look back on them and think, oh yeah, I remember Italy, but we’ve all had that experience where we smell something surprising but familiar and it’s that sudden, emotional memory in a way that’s much more moving than just thinking about the same event. It was that depth of memory that I was really terrified I had lost.

Read the full interview at The Daily Beast

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