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

Overview -

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.  Read more...


 
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More About Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum
 
 
 
Overview

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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780061915314
  • ISBN-10: 0061915319
  • Publisher: Harpercollins
  • Publish Date: June 2011
  • Page Count: 304


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2011-04-25
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this moving and informative work, Birnbaum tells of the head injury she suffered when she was hit by a car while jogging at her mother's home in Boston. Birnbaum was left with total anosmia, or inability to perceive smells. This was just before she was due to begin courses at the Culinary Institute of America on a postcollege scholarship at age 22. Doctors informed her that once the olfactory system was damaged, her sense of smell wouldn't return, and hence she had to decide what else to do with her life. Over the course of this memoir padded with much research, Birnbaum consulted numerous experts in the nose field, doctors and researchers as well as flavorists, perfumers in Grasse, France, and writers (Proust, naturally, and Oliver Sacks), who attest to the fierce bond between smell and memory, smell's function in sexual attraction (pheromones), and the role of genetics. Birnbaum recognized that without her sense of smell she had "lost a way of relating, of understanding, of processing" her world. Only gradually, after moving to New York and working at an art magazine, did aromas begin to return—rosemary, chocolate, and cucumbers—and with them, the ability to taste. (July)

 
BookPage Reviews

Scents and sensibility

When a speeding car slammed into Molly Birnbaum while she was out for a run, she broke her pelvis, fractured her skull and ripped tendons in her knee. Those injuries, though severe, would heal with time and hard work. But for this aspiring chef, the loss of her sense of smell was more devastating by far.

In Season to Taste, Birnbaum vividly recalls what it was like to suddenly live in a world devoid of scent. “It was an invisible injury, potent and intense,” she writes. “It involved nothing concrete like crutches; physical therapy wasn’t a possibility. But the absence—the monotone blank, the indescribable pale of a scentless landscape—was more painful than the nights I hyperventilated in the hospital after knee surgery.”

At the time of the accident, Birnbaum—who writes a delicious, recipe-filled blog called “My Madeleine”—was about to begin studying at the Culinary Institute of America. She’d spent a grueling summer working in a popular Boston restaurant to prepare for school, washing dishes, cleaning wild mushrooms and herbs, peeling garlic and learning to trust her sense of smell to guide her cooking. And then, in the split second it took for her forehead to smash into a moving windshield, the neurons that connected her nose to her brain snapped. Her brain could no longer receive the messages about incoming smells. There’s even a name for it: anosmia.

Birnbaum began talking with experts in the science of taste and smell, trying to understand what had happened, and what would happen next. After recovering (physically, anyway), she moved to New York City in search of a job and a fresh start. Intriguingly, she began to get flashes of scent. First, rosemary, smelling green and woodsy. Then chocolate, followed by laundry soap, cilantro, cucumbers, old books. Slowly, she reclaimed her life, one scent at a time.

Birnbaum powerfully explores the science of smell and its ties to emotion, love and even memory in Season to Taste. This deeply personal recollection of recovering from a loss invisible to the outside world is a truly mouthwatering read.

 
BAM Customer Reviews

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