Sea­son to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way

  • From the Publisher
August 29, 2013

An aspir­ing chef’s mov­ing account of find­ing her way — in the kitchen and beyond — after a trag­ic acci­dent destroys her sense of smell.

At twen­ty-two, just out of col­lege, Mol­ly Birn­baum spent her nights read­ing cook­books and her days work­ing at a Boston bistro, prepar­ing to start train­ing at the pres­ti­gious Culi­nary Insti­tute of Amer­i­ca. She knew exact­ly where she want­ed the life ahead to lead: She want­ed to be a chef. But short­ly before she was due to matric­u­late, she was hit by a car while out for a run in Boston. The acci­dent frac­tured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds — and destroyed her sense of smell. The flesh and bones would heal…but her sense of smell?And not being able to smell meant not being able to cook. She dropped her cook­ing school plans, quit her restau­rant job, and sank into a depres­sion.

Sea­son to Taste is the sto­ry of what came next: how she picked her­self up and set off on a grand, enter­tain­ing quest in the hopes of learn­ing to smell again. Writ­ing with the good cheer and great charm of Lau­rie Col­win or Ruth Reichl, she explores the sci­ence of olfac­tion, pheromones, and Proust’s madeleine; she meets lead­ing experts, includ­ing the writer Oliv­er Sacks, sci­en­tist Stu­art Firestein, and per­fumer Christophe Lau­damiel; and she vis­its a pio­neer­ing New Jer­sey fla­vor lab, eats at Grant Achatz’s leg­endary Chica­go restau­rant Alin­ea, and enrolls at a renowned per­fume school in the South of France, all in an effort to under­stand and over­come her condition.

A mov­ing per­son­al sto­ry packed with sur­pris­ing facts about our sens­es, Sea­son to Taste is filled with unfor­get­table descrip­tions of the smells Birn­baum redis­cov­ers — from cin­na­mon, cedar­wood, and fresh bagels to rose­mary chick­en, laven­der, and apple pie — as she falls in love, learns to smell from scratch, and starts, once again, to cook.

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