Sunday, June 6, 2010

I met Ana Sortun!!

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Association for Psychological Science here in Boston. I learned a lot and may be blogging in future posts about some of the presentations I saw there.

So, how did I meet Ana Sortun of the famous Oleana restaurant in Cambridge? Our current president Linda Bartoshuk has researched taste over the course of her distinguished career. Linda invited Chef Sortun among others to her Presidential Symposium, titled "Spicing Up Psychological Science," presented to a packed Grand Ballroom at the Sheraton Boston.

Chef Sortun and Mimi Sheraton, former New York Times food critic, talked about spices and how strongly they relate to and evoke different cultures. Just think about how easily you can imagine and distinguish Thai food from southern Italian from Indian from Greek from Moroccan from . . . you get the idea. And what distinguishes these cuisines so clearly? Spice, of course. The "cool" flavors of dill and caraway take us to Scandinavia, while "hot" flavors suggest countries closer to the equator.

Chef Sortun has become known for combining spices in unexpected ways to create unique taste experiences. She created some appetizers for us that teased our taste buds to name the ingredients. And that's when I got to speak to her!

I'm so happy to report that she is a real sweetheart. (Don't you hate it when a famous person you admire turns out to be a jerk?) She seemed genuinely touched when I told her I had my 50th birthday party at Oleana. She even asked me if I cooked (!) and I told her about my passion for growing my own herbs.

Check out Chef Sortun's cookbook, appropriately titled Spice:

Also on the symposium panel was Marianne Gillette of the McCormick (no relation) spice company, who described McCormick's interest in research on medicinal and other effects of spices. The McCormick Science Institute's most impressive effort, in my opinion, is the creation and dissemination of standard samples of spices. This standardization supports the creation of a body of research that compares apples to apples, or, in this case, cinnamon to cinnamon! Here's the link:

Add a little spice to your day . . . try something new . . . shake some cinnamon into your oatmeal or some dill onto your salmon.

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