An understanding of your personal flavor box is a vital step in becoming an analytical taster. Start by simply defining and describing your flavor box’s contents. In two columns list the products you like and those you dislike. It is perhaps easiest to start with the extremes. What foods do you absolutely love? Which foods do you hate? Try to establish the reasons behind your preferences and your prejudices. For instance, if you dislike a product is it because of its texture, its flavor, or its association to negative memories? Try to be as specific as possible. Do you like hot, spicy food because it is the food of your childhood? The more detailed and more specific you can make these lists, the more they will aid in your palate development. I keep my lists and refer to them every six months or so. It helps me to remain aware of my palate development. An awareness of the contents of your flavor box as well as the emotions and memories associated with those contents will help you to differentiate between the actual flavors of a product versus your personal prejudices for or against a particular product. This awareness is vital for all professional chefs.
As you begin to define your flavor personality, your individual flavor box, you may find that there is a difference between the way in which you taste on a personal level and the way in which you taste as a professional or when you are cooking for others. My career as a professional chef has dramatically altered the way in which I taste food. My professional flavor box is much more diverse than my personal flavor box. This may be true for you as well.
Your flavor box is not stagnant; think of its walls as fluid and constantly moving. This is because your emotional and mental environment is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore, each time you taste, that flavor is being placed into a slightly new and altered flavor box. Even if it is a familiar product, there is a new part of the flavor box into which that flavor must be deposited. Thus repetition becomes a vital component of the tasting process and to the development of your flavor palate. Repetition should be applied in the course of one tasting as well as in the overall number of tastings. You can never say, “I know how that tasted, I don’t need to taste it again.” Repetition and concentration are the most important steps to increasing one’s flavor repertoire. Stay alert to nuances and differences between each sampling of a flavor. I can taste the same product a hundred different times, and each time I notice something new, something different. Like any skill in the kitchen, tasting requires constant practice. With practice, the otherwise confusing nature of taste becomes easy to understand. Once you understand the nature and contents of your individual flavor box, you are well on the way to becoming an analytical taster.