A rather fancy blind taste test

Think you can distinguish between a jalapeno and a lemon? Unless you’ve been seriously overdosing on the former, that’s probably not too tricky a task. But how would you fare at putting the difference into words?

Students enrolled at the Swannanoa School of the Culinary Arts found out yesterday in a rapid-fire palette training conducted by program founder Susi Gott Seguret. Over the span of just under an hour, Seguret served bite-sized morsels of bitter, sweet and salty foods to the amateur cooks seated around a picnic table on the bucolic porch of Warren Wilson College’s garden cabin. Per Seguret’s request, the students kept their eyes squeezed shut to further enhance the taste sensations. “Last year, we had blindfolds,” Seguret explained. “But they got so hot and sweaty, they kept slipping off.”

While the students had no trouble deciphering the most prominent flavors, the exercise fired debate over the sweet notes sounded by cheddar cheese Goldfish and whether heat – pronounced “piquant” by Francophile Seguret – can be a harmonizer.

The session was purposely presented on the first day of the weeklong program, during which enrollees will cook alongside local chefs, pluck vegetables from the Warren Wilson garden and learn French techniques for poaching fish drawn from a nearby stream. This is the third year Seguret has offered the summer seminar, intended to endow its participants with “that certain ‘tour de main’ in the kitchen, a passion for the flavors that tickle the palette,” as she told the Xpress last year.

If you’re flush with time and cash, there are still slots available for next week’s session, priced at $1,000 per person. But locals may prefer to take advantage of a one-off deal, which allows students to enjoy a half-day’s worth of activities for just $50. Students may opt to spend an afternoon on the porch sampling beer with master beer judge Brian Cole or trying wines with Eberhard Heide, the genial owner of Asheville Wine Market. The wine tasting, which followed yesterday’s palette training, is an informal affair, with participants pouring their own glasses of sauvignon blanc and rose while Seguret doles out generous portions of matching European cheeses (be sure to ask for seconds of the Crottin de Chavignol).

—Hanna Rachel Raskin, food editor

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