Mandy Aftel: This is where I keep my perfumes, these are my materials. There are top notes, middle notes, and base notes. The top notes are familiar, usually from gardening and eating. They are very light in color, they reach your sense of smell very quickly, and disappear within about half an hour. Then we have the spices and florals. Their scents are more pointy and sharp. And on the bottom shelf are roots, barks, and resins from trees. These have been in man’s spiritual life since the beginning of time. When you make perfume, you make stuff from all three areas.
Julia Sherman: And you can mix anything?
MA: Oh yeah. I work in food too. So, I do stuff with flavors as well as in fragrance with these materials. I also make a face elixir, this one is made with jasmine. [Mandy gives the oil to Julia to smell]
JS: I love jasmine. When I was in India, I became obsessed with trying to find real jasmine oil. I followed many different men down dark alleyways in search of it. Fake jasmine oil smells like toilet bowl cleaner to me. I never found the good stuff.
MA: Good luck. It’s very hard to get anything real unless you know what you’re doing. You want to smell real jasmine oil from India? You want to smell the difference? I guarantee you will smell the difference right here.
JS: Tell me about the edible scents.
MA: I sell essential oils to chefs, ice cream makers, candy makers, really really fine chocolate makers, and mixologists. I make essential oil sprays which are easier for finishing food and for alcoholic drinks.
JS: Tell me about the book you are working on with Daniel Patterson?
MA: It’s a reading cookbook called The Art of Flavor: Practices and Principles for Creating Delicious Food. It backtracks out of creating perfume into food. Perfume is really disembodied flavor. Let’s try some of the oils. Take a piece of chocolate.
MA: I know you wont get this. Its very very ordinary. Its mind-blowing when you find out what it is. [Mandy sprays the chocolate with a solution]
JS: I don’t know.
MA: Lavender. Incredibly good lavender. Camphourous lavender. Lavender absolute. So it’s like a lavender flower
JS: Wow. I usually hate lavender in food.
MA: So do I, but that one is very different. Ok so welcome to my world!
JS: Great. Happy to be here.
MA: Part of my work is broadening people’s about consciousness of how complex plants are once they have been distilled. Like this damascena rose from Turkey.
JS: So did you try a million different kinds of rose to land on this one?
MA: I try a million different kinds of anything I own. I am a really labor-intensive joyful shopper. Once I find my source, it often disappears or goes downhill so I have to look for it again. But I really enjoy the hunt.
JS: So, did Leonard Cohen wear perfume?
MA: He wore Oud Luban whenever he went out. He also wore ancient resins. He really loved it. I had been communicating with him for almost twenty years. I went to his memorial—his personal memorial. He was a fan of mine, and I sure was a fan of his.
JS: How do perfume and cooking intersect?
MA: Flavor is about understanding ingredients from the inside out. And to understand them, you have to understand their facets, and how their facets interlock with one another, and how to best utilize that. Kind of like perfume: you need to use top, middle, and base notes to make something delicious.