Miami chef Brad Kilgore had his work cut out for him. Not only would he be hosting the Miami edition of MOFAD's Feast for the Senses, this one focused on the sense of smell, but he'd be doing it on the seventh floor of a parking garage. It's a nuanced sense, for which perception and environment are everything — and he was serving the meal in a setting where wind was sure to whip and a shower could come down at any moment.
But before the first course even arrived, it was clear Kilgore was up to the challenge.
"I had a friend of mine put together some vases with holes in the side of them," Kilgore said afterward. "There was a cup hidden inside the vase with dry ice, and I made an aromatic tea out of elderflower and black lime." Servers then placed the vapor-shrouded vases on the table and poured the hot tea into the cups, sending a fragrant aroma around the diners. Only then did the first course arrive, a locally caught wahoo sashimi with a ponzu sauce featuring garden-sourced hibiscus.
Next came one of the most aromatic dishes Kilgore serves at his Wynwood restaurant, Alter. Using local eggs cooked softly, Kilgore added truffle pearls, caviar, chives, and a layer of gruyere cheese. Then he topped the dish with a light mousse of sea scallops and gruyere and torched it until crispy. "We had stations around the dinner with different chefs torching around the room," Kilgore said. "Then the server immediately ran each dish to a guest.
For the main course, Kilgore served grilled duck with root vegetables and celery root dulce de leche. "We set up a seven-foot grill in front of the tables, and I filled the grill up with our own locally grown rosemary, lemon grass stalks, anise, and cardamom," said Kilgore. "That was probably the most aromatic, because smoke travels and there was fire shooting up."
For dessert, diners were invited to spray a blend of essential oils — clove bud, anise seed, Bergamot orange, and a little bit of cedar, all edible — onto the back of their dominant eating hand. While the main dessert was being served, Kilgore opened the door of his ovens, where he was baking a large cookie full of vanilla beans, orange peels, and cloves. So the parking lot smelled of delicious cookies, while diners' hands were scented with essential oils. Finally, the fragrant main dessert was served: a custard made from Dulcey chocolate, served with bay leaf-steeped Chantilly cream, pull-and-toasted croissants, and a blackberry jam.
"This was my first time going after pairing a specific scent with food," Kilgore said. "But I think smell a very important part of eating." With a focus on local ingredients and seasonal cooking, Kilgore balances a straightforward approach to cooking with a more esoteric one. "I'm interested in the science behind food and why people taste things," Kilgore said. "It all comes into play in the experience of a meal, whether people realize it or not."