One day last month, Anna Payet wore a new perfume to an outdoor party in the northern Spanish town of Roses. The fragrance was mainly citrus, with notes of bergamot, warm milk, and brown butter. Extending her wrist for a fellow partygoer to sniff, Payet gushed, "Doesn't it smell good enough to eat?"
It should. The perfume in question, Núvol di Llimona (or "Lemon Cloud") was created by her brother-in-law, Jordi Roca, pastry chef at Cellar de Can Roca, one of Spain's most acclaimed restaurants (Payet's husband is Joan Roca, the executive chef there). Jordi has already made a name for himself creating desserts that taste like many well-known fragrances smell. Now he's taken that talent out of the kitchen and given it a twist, by inventing a perfume that smells like one of his desserts taste.
Roca, 33, has long been fascinated by scent. Standing in cosmetics store Sephora one day seven years ago, he had a minor revelation: the components of many perfumes come from ingredients commonly used in cooking. He set about creating a dessert based on Calvin Klein's Eternity, combining a mandarin orange granita with orange flower gelée, basil, and a vanilla cream to capture the fruit and herbal notes of the fragrance. Since then, he's gone on to create 24 edible perfumes, including a floral one inspired by Lancôme's Miracle and a (literally) earthy one based on Terre, by Hermes, that includes a distillation of dirt. But not all fragrances lend themselves to dessert. "We've never been able to get Chanel No. 5 to taste good. Too many aldehydes," Roca says, referring to the compound that makes some scents unstable and fleeting.
It is rather easier, however, to make perfume smell tasty. Roca has been intrigued by the idea of reversing the roles from the start of his perfume-pastry project. But he didn't act on the idea until earlier this year, when he developed a non-edible spray to enhance the citrus notes in one of his desserts, a mix of milk cream, brown butter, and lemon sponge cake called Lemon Distillation. "Diners started asking if they could buy it," Roca says. "So I thought, let's do it."
And Núvol de Llimona was born. Working with Barcelona perfumier AgustíVidal, Roca created one thousand 100-ml flasks of the scent, and put it on sale at his restaurant. Unlike other designers who dabble in fragrance, he didn't have a specific audience in mind. "I wasn't thinking so much of a particular kind of woman who would wear this," he says. "Rather I was trying to capture a feeling of warmth and tenderness."
The same feeling, in other words, that he hopes diners get from eating his food. So far, the response has been positive. "I've been amazed," he says. "We thought it would just be this whimsical thing, but in the first three weeks we sold 300 bottles." In September, the perfume will be available on the restaurant's website, at €50 ($70) per flask.
If Núvol takes off, Roca says he'll try expanding his line to include some of his other desserts. In the meantime, though, Anna Payet has found one flaw in his new creation. "I love the way it smells," she says. "But it makes me hungry."