If we look back on our childhoods, we rarely highlight the rainy days. Instead, we prefer to remember the sunny warm days in an idyllic setting of lakes, mountains, forests and streams (at least I do). As a society, we also often hark back to a Golden Age that is set firmly in a past that probably existed rather more in imagination than in reality. Given this retrospectively optimistic aspect of human nature, it is tempting to dismiss the Golden Age reminiscences of some of the more mature flavorists among us as just more of the same.
One question that has often been addressed to me in this context is the wisdom, or otherwise, of advising new graduates to train as flavorists. Responses from established flavorists to this question normally fall into one of two very distinct camps. One camp views the second half of the 20th century as a sparkling Golden Age for the flavor industry, sees every current trend heading in a negative direction and would advise against joining a profession in which the best days seem to lie decisively in the past. The other camp stresses the eternal nature of creativity and would see the role of a flavorist remaining attractive and satisfying for the foreseeable future. Which camp exhibits the better judgment? Is the creative cup half full or half empty? Clearly the majority of flavorists would join the first camp, suspecting that our profession has started to slide slowly backwards. I do not agree. I am firmly in the second camp. I certainly enjoy being a contrarian, but how can I possibly actually defend my opinion?
Technological Advances: Pros and Cons
I was unquestionably fortunate to start my career as a flavorist at a time when modern analytical techniques were just beginning to prove invaluable. Within a few short years, the palette of ingredients seemed to expand almost exponentially. Not only were there many more chemicals to play with, but many of them were vastly superior to their predecessors. Many highly successful new creations were underpinned simply by an exaggerated level of a single new ingredient: a “silver bullet.” Perhaps this was actually a Golden Age.