Because You Just Never Know…
Rank #108 of 1949
About my essay:
Chef Trevis Gleason explains how the temporary loss of his sense of flavors makes him appreciate every bite of food and life. 100% of his prize money would be donated to the National MS Society.
Everything we see – EVERYTHING – is made up of waves of the visible spectrum of light. The colors we learned as we bent light through or junior high school spectrums, colors we memorized by ROY G. BIV, comprise it all; from the blue in those baby blues to the rosy pink of a perfectly-cook lamb lollypop chop and all the hues in-between, come from those seven colors teased alone or blended.
So to it is with flavor.
While the old tongue map I learned (and later taught) in culinary school may be in question, the four simple flavors of our taste – Sweet, Salt, Sour & Bitter – are not (excluding that umami crap, which is just a hip spin on Brillat-Savarin’s Osmazome; even he didn’t feel he got that one quite right…).
Every bite of everything is like opening our eyes afresh on a new day’s dawn yet is as simple as a blend of four basic flavors.
Imagine my surprise when I woke one morning unable to taste Salt (and two years later, Sweet)!
My major-brand baking soda toothpaste tasted like candy that morning but it wasn’t until a noontime bowl of Pho’ left me with a flat, metallic hole in the center of my tongue that I realized exactly what was happening.
I live with Multiple Sclerosis (MS); a disease which strips the protective sheath from the nerves that run between my brain and ever part of my body… including my palate. Luckily for me, the sense of both flavors returned after less than 3 months. Once a neuro-pathway is damaged by MS, however, one never knows if or when it will be gone forever.
Be it from insensitivity or inability to understand, the most common responses I heard, when articulating my losses, had nothing to do with me. “Oh, I can’t take too much sweet anyway” or “I never liked salty foods much…” were common retort.
In effort to educate or out of total frustration, I was finally forced to ask these people what their least favorite color might be. (Now that I think of it, it must have been frustration because I guess I kind of hit people over the head with it.)
“Yellow” they might say… and then the beat down.
“You see that tree over there; the big one with the dark green leaves? Without yellow, those leaves would look blue. Or that Tiger Lilly in your garden…without seeing yellow, they’d be red.”
If they needed, they got another salvo or two just to make sure it set in and then they’d get it… maybe.
Our palate – our tongue – is our eyes into the world food.
Every moment from soil, sea, farm or field food is changed by those who handle it. The last chance to affect, alter and enhance the flavor of food is in our own cooking.
It could be the most incredibly flavorful bite you’ve ever tasted… or it could be the last.
You just never know.