When food meets fragrance, life really doesn't get much better ...
"I inhale wherever I go, I like to smell things, I like the aliveness. Scent is like food it nourishes you. Its very exciting time to be a perfumer." So said, fragrance author and natural perfume expert Mandy Aftel who two weeks ago, together with The Perfume Society hosted a special supper club for fragrance journalists and bloggers. And Scents and the City were lucky to be in attendance.
Dinner was created by Pratap Chahal aka That Hungry Chef who runs supper clubs from his home in North London with food inspired from his extensive travels. He created a special 'scented menu' for our evening, and it's no exaggeration to say each dish was like eating a perfume. Heaven, in other words...
Mandy herself is keen on the connection between fragrance and food. She is the author of Aroma - a cookbook written with chef Daniel Patterson, which focuses on using essential oils in cooking. She has also written Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent as well as Essence and Alchemy - the latter on the history and making of perfume, together with Scents and Sensibilities - on the history of solid scent. She creates natural perfumes from her home in California (frequently scouring the globe for the rarest, precious ingredients on the planet), runs workshops and classes and even has a range of Chef’s Essences® so that cooks can add a fragrant touch to everyday dishes (you can add them to cocktails too). She has recently created a perfume museum - a display of her vintage scent collection, rare ingredients and other perfume paraphernalia (a must-see for any scent lovers who happen to be in The West Coast).
"I think people in general are more sophisticated now," she explained to us around the dinner table, as we sipped on our Opihr gin cocktails in tiny sapphire bottles, infused with cumin, lemon and mint; and tucked into a starter of rose and bergamot-scented beetroot.
"Perfume blogs are doing an incredible job - they fill this area that’s not just commerce. People want to know what they’re putting on themselves, what they’re eating, what they’re wearing. And fragrance is particularly fascinating as it has intrinsically been a part of our species since the beginning of time. It’s deeply personal - and it's become more expressive both for the person who’s making it and the person who’s wearing it."
Our chat came to a temporary halt as the main course that was placed in front of us - an incredible "Beef à l'Aftel" scented with tobacco and chocolate and served with patchouli and carrot pearl barley, labdanum pickled onions and celeriac purée. And yes, it smelled and tasted as good as it sounds, with everyone keenly Instagraming their dish before swiftly devouring it. ("Instagramming is the new grace!" The Perfume Society's co-founder Jo Fairley proclaimed.)
Mandy continued to wax lyrical on scent in that spellbinding way only someone with true passion for their subject is able to. "What I love about smell, it that it brings up - but not directly - times and atmospheres, seasons and feelings. When my husband and I got to London, we went to Bloomsbury. It was just starting to rain and was getting dark. The air was changing and to me, it just looked perfect. That's the kind of thing I mean. Most of the perfumes I make are about trying to create a certain feeling with the person who wears it, a feeling about life, having a certain joy of life and experience of living and encountering the world that’s out there."
Mandy has certainly had an interesting life herself, working as a therapist for artists and writers specifically ("I’m not conventional in any real way, so I fitted in better with artistic people...") and writing a book on Brian Jones of The Rolling Stone, as well as Story of Your Life about "becoming the author of your own experiences". It was only when she began to write a novel that her interest in perfumery was piqued.
"I thought I’d make my main character a perfumer – I don’t know why. I thought it was kind of sexy! So I started to research again - I was interested in natural ingredients in particular, so a friend and I took this class on aromatherapy together and I seemed to be able to easily grasp how natural ingredients worked together. I made something and she suggested we start a perfume line - and we did! We were in [New York department store] Bergdorf's - I did the perfumes, she did the business. It was a nightmare. The relationship fell apart, I lost the business – I was not good at business!"
Going back to the drawing board, Mandy decided to become more specialist, writing her books and running her natural perfumery business from home, where customers come to her directly. It's clear she has no interest in global domination, but instead chooses to remain hands-on, doing what she loves and staying comfortably within her niche. "I have a strong relationship to my customers. They buy directly from me and I like being in their lives, in the same way that I liked being in people’s lives when I was a therapist and I was helping them."
As we talked, more gorgeous fare continued to emerge from Pratap's kitchen. We were treated to a pre-pudding kulfi of saffron and pistachio before the main event - a frankincense cream with cedarwood-scented pear and plum gel, topped with apple and chickpea crumble. And the grand finale was a chocolate tartlet infused with one of my favourite ingredients - vetiver, together with jasmine and sandalwood, as a fragrance diffuser was placed on the table behind us, emitting the smell of rich frankincense in the air as we ate. I think Mandy summed up the experience fairly succinctly by explaining the wonderful thing about fragrance is the fact that you can put whatever issues you have to one side and relish just being in the moment, enjoying the immediacy of these gorgeous aromas. "You just get high after a while!" she concluded, to the agreement of everyone.
To find out more about Mandy Aftel, visit www.aftelier.com
To book That Hungry Chef for an event or to attend a supper club, visit
Catch up with fragrant news, events and details of more scented supper clubs from The Perfume Society at perfumesociety.org