Thoughts on Flavor

Zakary Pelaccio

Zakary Pelaccio › Zakary Pelaccio is chef/owner of Fish & Game in Hudson, New York. Zakary's approach to ...


Flavor is not a part time job.

Flavor is unapologetic.

Flavor is not that guy from Public Enemy.

Flavor is a lifelong commitment; a constant struggle; and frustratingly simple.

Flavor is seldom found in restaurants, but it is often there in conception.

We all have flavor. It shows itself on the path we follow to find it. It looks, tastes, feels and smells good as we careen towards it; it’s terrifying and lovely and sad and hilarious, often all at once.

Flavor demands that you pay attention.

I am still figuring out how to live my life with flavor or for flavor, in tune with and in service of my own flavor.

Flavor is long gone well before we realize we’ve lost our passion. It was the wind, you’ll find in hindsight, that was taken out of your sails.

Flavor is not the past or the future; it’s the now.

Flavor is the juice running down your chin, the just burnt skin that never makes it past the grill master, the gelatin left on your finger after devouring a chicken wing, a mushroom perfectly cooked, still plump, a really ripe peach… yeah, a peach. But, it’s also a movement, a step, a tip of the hat, nod of the head, a well-timed gesture, quip or chuckle. The way the light is shining, right now… on that tree….

Great flavor requires a mastery of timing.

A well placed word.

It is never too much and certainly not too little.

In the Chowkit market in Kuala Lumpur the guy grilling satay spreads his coals out across the long and narrow, trough-like grill. He grills 20 skewers at a time. If he sells 2, 2 more replace the ones sold, not 3. 20 fit just right. In a trance he fans palm fronds over the sizzling meat and burning embers. On his skewers, pieces of chicken sandwich chunks of chicken skin and fat. On his skewers, chunks of chicken skin and fat sandwich pieces of chicken. Fat, meat, fat, meat, fat. Some of the chicken browns, bits of it burn, and all the while he brushes his delicacies with rich coconut cream, fatty cream that drips from the meat and flares in the red embers below.

This is it.

This is all he sells, all he cooks, all we see him see. His actions are both learned and intuitive, there’s no resentment, no it’s-just-a-job, it’s love and it’s hardly perfunctory. It’s an elegant dance. Art begets art.

Flavor is when we know that it’s just right.

It’s when she finishes my sentences. And it’s great, when finished, if she smiles at me.

The Duke once said, “if you have to ask you’ll never know”. In this context, as it pertains to flavor, let’s say: if you have to ask, you have yet to experience it.

My girl and I took a walk. We stopped at an apple tree. The apples were dimpled and rough, brown and green. I bit into one, it was sour and sweet and somewhat tannic. I bit into it again and again. We pulled apples from the tree without talking and without planning, but with a sense of purpose. I had no bag so I carried all the apples home in my shirt. The wind was cold. Fall had arrived. At home I spilled the apples onto a stone wall next to the kitchen and pulled my shirt back over my body. My hands were cold and sticky. I washed them in the cold water of the outdoor spigot. They were still somewhat sticky and now quite cold. I walked inside and warmed them by a fire my girl had made. After a few generous sips of a stem-y, barnyard-y red wine I went back outside to sit on the stone wall and eat another apple.

Flavor is not complicated, yet we make it so.

What are your thoughts on flavor?

Photo Credit: Staci Strauss