Alumni & Friends

Millie McLuskie - The Flavour Game

Earlier this year, almost all of us were made to face a very strange and uncomfortable situation - a national lockdown. It was frequently highlighted that people often turn to their creative instincts in times of difficulty, however latent these may be, and many a paintbrush was picked up that had previously been neglected in favour of gregarious evenings in the pub or sat around the dinner table with family and friends. The coronavirus lockdown was a period of time that provided both opportunity (namely time) and much restriction - two key ingredients for creativity.  Having recently graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and having been involved in recipe development at leading food publications, I was in a cookery writing frame of mind.  And so, I wrote a cookery book.

In the book, I try to expand on the normal parameters of a recipe book - strict pedagogy is not my thing.  The book is called ‘The Flavour Game’ and that’s exactly what it encourages the reader to do - play the game.  It includes a number of recipes but aims to inspire the cook to transform each recipe into something that’s their own.

One such example of a ‘game’, is the ‘The Cobbler Game’.  It starts with a Mexican-inspired Mole Corn Cobbler (though certain ingredient swaps necessary at the time made this a caustically inauthentic version of anything even vaguely ‘Mexican’).  Subsequently, the recipe is divided into three parts - the focal point, the flavour theme, and the cobbler topping - with suggestions for ways of taking these in all sorts of directions. 

The book also goes beyond simply the cooking of food and investigates topics such as food sustainability (for it is abundantly clear that we can longer think about what we eat without considering its impact on the environment) and sensory science (lesser known, but much less disheartening than the former!). These were topics that I was formally introduced to while at Le Cordon Bleu and have changed the way I think about and prepare food.

On the moralistic side of things, I’ve really tried to curb my food waste and food air miles.  I try to be careful about the provenance of my food, preferring rapeseed to olive oil, desperately trying to find a source of sourness that isn’t a lemon, and I’ve bored my friends and family rigid telling them, ‘I prefer my fish in the sea’, accompanied by a raised eyebrow of disapproval.  I’ll be the first to say it’s difficult to break entrenched habits – and while I try to avoid hypocrisy, I do still eat olive oil, lemons, and fish, but hopefully far less.  Nevertheless, it’s an issue that is worth trying to get to grips with, and frustrated with the conflicting stories in the press, I took up an online course on food sustainability to try and deepen my understanding.  Some of my take-outs from the course have been drawn together here.

On the less didactic side, learning about sensory science opened up a whole new dimension of the food world that I’d only scratched the surface of prior to my course.  It was fascinating and exciting – though it made me wish that I had taken my fervently studied GCSEs into the lab rather than the library, swapping my history degree for experimental psychology.  The depth of this field of research is considerable, and though I am wholly unqualified to write about it, I did enjoy summarizing some of my readings here.  Much of what I read about comes fairly intuitively, though it’s interesting to have it identified and elucidated – the weight of the cutlery, the shape of the plate, the colour of the food can all alter the way we perceive what we eat.  At least it vindicated some of my own fussiness, having never been able to drink wine out of a mug, even as a student. 

An interesting discovery was the distinction between taste and flavour – two terms used somewhat interchangeably in common parlance, but that in fact signify very different sensory experiences.  There are five tastes – sour, sweet, savoury, bitter and salty – and an almost infinite array of flavours – essentially everything else you perceive that isn’t one of those five, like caramel, nutty, herbal.  I like to see it as the black and white outline of taste, coloured in with flavour.  I’m now at pains not to correct people in daily chit-chat when they confuse flavour and taste – I don’t want to be that person.  But in the kitchen, it has a practical element. Once you have stripped a recipe back to its essential components – which tastes and which flavours are utilized, and to what effect – it becomes a little easier to go off-piste and create your own dishes. That is the sort-of science that underpins the flavour game.

A digital version of my cookery book can be found here, and I am in the process of getting a few physical copies printed as well, because I’m old fashioned and don’t believe in cooking from a screen.