How many senses are there? The number prevailing from ancient Greece to today’s primary schools has been five. Modern science has settled on somewhere between nine and 21. Aristotle decided on four and missed taste out altogether. It’s been roughly 2,300 years and it seems we’re still not exactly sure.
That bodes well for Sybil Kapoor. A glance at her contents page reveals we’re playing fast and loose with the title. While split into one chapter for each sense, taste is the only survivor. The rest are replaced: sight becomes appearance, smell becomes flavour, and touch becomes both temperature and texture (where sound also gets a look in).
But this isn’t a case of moving the goalposts; it’s the book’s strength, allowing Kapoor to start from a potentially restrictive, commonplace concept before expanding. The interplay between these identified senses makes Kapoor’s work a fresh way of thinking about food. Each one plots a course between science and philosophy, while never obsessing over either, resulting in an informed perspective on cuisine which puts gut feeling first.
Dishes develop throughout the book to incorporate each section and the lessons learned throughout. A basil custard is introduced in the ‘hot’ section of temperature (chapter four), but would have a stronger aroma (chapter two) if served tepid, and a thicker viscosity (chapter three) if cold. The onus is on the reader to decide what is right for them.
The recipes themselves may be aimed at the ambitious home cook but the mindset is of real value to a chef. The book is one of ideas and theories – as the author notes, the dishes are only there to “illustrate a point”.
The finished product is a book that adds dashes of science, thought and theory, but ultimately leans on the reader to blend the ideas into their own culinary style. Kapoor advises “Trust your own senses – they don’t lie,” – Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound simply equips you with a better toolkit to understand them.
Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound: A New Way to Cook by Sybil Kapoor (Pavilion Books, £24). Try her charred leek salad with thyme oil here