Smell Everything

Food — Tags: , — By Crust on December 10, 2009

For those of you who already smell everything, good work. It’s just recently sunk in for me to smell everything.

I had a chef who first instilled in me the importance of smell. I was roasting some cauliflower and I had forgotten a tray in the top oven. He came up the stairs and said, “Nutty… sniff sniff, caramelized… sniff sniff, someone’s burning cauliflower!”
Sure enough he was right. He said he could smell it from downstairs and I was standing right next to the oven and hadn’t even noticed. He explained how important it was to use all of your senses in the kitchen and I got so much out of what he was saying. He also taught me for the first time about sensory olfaction. When you can smell and taste something differently through your nasel cavity when something is in your mouth. This applies when you are tasting wine amongst other things. Around this same time I was doing a lot of yoga research and was realizing the importance of deep breathing. I realized that I was not breathing deeply though my nose throughout the day nor was I thinking about smells. Both are simple joys of life that put you in the moment.

The next phase came when I was at Boneta and the guy training me would smell everything. Whenever one of us would come across an interesting smell we would share it with the other. “These kaffir lime leaves smell like fruit loops.”
“This syrup smells like juniper.”

I started smelling all of my mise en place to check it at the beginning of the day and before service. I smell cutting boards, liters, 500’s, the counter just to see what stainless steel smells like (not much).

Now thinking back smelling has been all around me. I always thought it was cool how my chef would always without fail stick his nose in the carton of cream or jug of milk before adding it to his 16 liters of soup or before cooking with it at all. I started to do that to just to copy before I even thought through the importance of it. Sometimes when it was slow we would play the liter smelling game. We would get a stack of clean liters and smell them. “Sniff, nothing, sniff, nothing, sniff, capers!, sniff, curry froth!, sniff, it smells familiar but I can’t tell what it is, you smell it.”

It’s so important to smell and to breath deeply. Make sure to smell stuff!


  1. Matt R. says:

    What is the reference to litres and 500’s?

  2. Colleen says:

    Plastic containers to put things in…..sauces, condiments, mise. Not hotel pan or deli inserts, but round, plastic, cups with lids. Also known as deli cups.

  3. Lisa says:

    HAHA!! omg that is hilarious you guys actually play the smelling game. I smell every single container before I put my prep in it. Nothing like the smell of onions to ruin your litre of anglaise. It’s quite a pleasant surprise when I smell my prep in the clean container and it reminds me of 15 mins ago! 🙂

  4. Crust says:

    Litres are 1000mls, then 500mls then 250mls, we just say “can you grab a stack of 250’s”

  5. Nolt45 says:

    I’m a despicable mouth-breather.

  6. mum says:

    Amazing and very interesting, I love your blog and the comments and you my dear.

  7. Colleen says:

    Smell is 70% of your taste. If you lose your sense of smell, then you lose most of your taste as well. Try plugging your nose and tasting some wine. Or try plugging your nose, closing your eyes, and tasting a raw onion. Is it an onion? Or an apple?

    One of my sous chefs way back when I was apprenticing had lost his sense of smell. (He was in a dreadful motorcycle accident, and the loss of smell was related to one of his injuries.) He cooked by memory for the rest of his life. He couldn’t taste most things. He would always ask me to smell his mise to see if it had gone off. (And of course, it was almost always rank when he asked me to smell things….think he did it on purpose? NAH!)

    Anyway, smelling your mise is a good habit! But don’t forget to taste it too!

  8. Matt R. says:

    Funny, I’ve never worked in a kitchen where the disposable cups are used for food storage, aside from things like calamari portions or something like that. I’ve only ever used ‘standard’ inserts for mise.

    I am not really sure how you would keep those on the line for service tho, as they don’t really fit into drawers etc very well.


  9. Bill says:

    Matt if you have a reach in line fridge they work great.

  10. Matt R. says:

    crazy! I assume the attraction is $$

  11. trevor says:

    man, great read. i just recently had the same epiphany, noticing how our pastry chef jams her snoz into every quart container and plastic 6th pan. id watch her, “sniff, sniff, sniff, BLEHHRG, sniff, sniff BLEH, sniff.”
    it was almost a game. she later informed me that she didnt want her anglaise reeking of garlic. something i probably would never have thought to check for.

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