The Flavor Matrix: A Book Review

A few months ago, I went into the Books & Brews Mass Ave location to sit at the bar and enjoy a mug full of beer. I went alone because I have seen how discussions between strangers naturally develop from nothing.  I have seen close friendship develop from two people ordering the same beer. Even if I talked to no one when I went into a B&B; I would still have a delicious brew, but this wasn’t one of those times.

I sat at the corner of the bar near a young man who was deeply immersed in a book. He was flipping from one page to another and back again with great speed. All I could make out from the pages were colorful charts and pictures of food. The man’s eyes open wide with realization and squint with focus as he explored the books pages.  The only time his attention wavered from the book was to make sure he grabbed his wine glass without spilling it over the bar top. I wanted to ask right away what he was reading, but at the same time I did not want to interrupt his intensity. His passion was also fascinating to watch. It wasn’t until he sat back in his chair to take in what he was reading that I asked him about the book.

For the next hour, I spoke with this individual as he verbally organized his thoughts about what he just read. I found out the book was a cookbook titled The Flavor Matrix by James Briscione, and it’s about the science behind flavor pairing of common culinary ingredients. I was intrigued by what the man told me because I also have had a passion for cooking from a young age. We parted ways mainly because he wanted to go home and cook something with his new found discoveries, and I didn’t blame him. As he cashed out, I was texting my wife about this book that I now wanted to purchase.

The Flavor Matrix by James Briscione is difficult to understand at first, but it gets easier to understand the deeper you dive in. The book is ideal for visual learners, and the graphs they call “The Flavor Matrix” are the primary tool for pairing different ingredients, pictured below. They are colorful and easy to read once you know what to look for, and they will help you to develop recipes rather than copy recipes.

There are a few recipes in the book for each ingredient listed to get you started, but you would not be utilizing this book if you simply stuck to what was given. As an example, take a fish like salmon.  Most restaurants and people know that salmon already goes well with citrus fruits and creamy sauces, but would you consider pairing that same fish with coffee? Most would say no, but the book goes into why this pairing molecularity makes sense with aromas and flavor compounds.  It also gives a recipe for coffee-cured salmon to follow for testing their findings. With that knowledge and charts, it is possible to take 3 or 4 unrelated ingredients and make a delicious dish. That being said, The Flavor Matrix is not for the everyday cook.  =There are still cooking techniques and base flavoring to know before diving into a off the wall recipe.  If there was anything to criticize, I wish there was more.  I wish they had more written explanation on why some of these surprise pairings worked.  For a lot of the reasoning, the authors want you to take the information on face value, but it does seem to work in my exterminations so far.  Lastly, I would of liked more ingredients listed.  For its size and cost, it is great, but it would lend itself perfect for a second volume.  If you cook regularly and enjoy experimentation, definitely pick this book up.
The photographed recipes include a Mushroom and Thyme Risotto with Cured Egg Yolk, a Raspberry Rice Pudding with Pistachios and Orange Zest, a Dark Roast Coffee Pork Tenderloin Taco with a Vanilla Peach Sauce and Corn Relish, and a Almond Cream Pasta with seared pork and bacon with fresh peas.

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