Food & Drink

The Science Behind Southern Flavors

A new cookbook shares one hundred recipes built on the chemistry of taste

Photo: Andrew Purcell

Flavor for All, the new cookbook from James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst (bottom center, from left to right), shares what fat, sour, salt, umami, bitter, and sweet flavors bring to different dishes.

Chef James Briscione has flavor down to a science. During his time as the research director of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, he studied the chemistry of food pairing—the hows and whys of what flavors go together. Now, he and his wife, Brooke Parkhurst, use that knowledge in their respective positions of executive chef and wine director at Angelena’s, the Italian-meets-Southern restaurant they run in their native Pensacola, Florida.

“I’m always looking for that big flavor match,” Briscione says. That might come in the form of a classic dish like pork and apple sauce, or in a sweet twist like chocolate and red wine bread pudding. Briscione and Parkhurst’s 2018 cookbook, The Flavor Matrix, explains that every food consists of hundreds of chemical compounds that make up its flavor, and if two ingredients have a significant number of these compounds in common, or if they share one compound in a high concentration, they’ll pair well together. 

photo: Andrew Purcell


Now comes the book’s sequel: the new Flavor for All: Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings. “We wanted something that would be accessible—weekday recipes building on The Flavor Matrix,” Briscione explains. “People would ask us how we applied these concepts to our everyday cooking.” Flavor for All, with more than one hundred recipes, is the answer. 

Southern ingredients pop up in surprising ways throughout the book. “What stands out about the South to me is the diversity of quality ingredients, from okra to the fresh seafood here in Pensacola,” Briscione says. He pairs fish with sweet potato-poblano hash, dices watermelon for bruschetta, and serves chianti braised beef with grits (the last is a favorite on the menu at Angelena’s). 


Each recipe in the cookbook opens with a list of ingredients, noting what taste they contribute to the dish. There are six major tastes the tongue experiences, Briscione explains: fat, sour, salt, umami, bitter, and sweet. Cooks can swap in ingredients based on flavor compounds: “If a recipe calls for soy sauce,” the couple writes in the book, “you know that you can deliver those same tastes with fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan cheese, tomato paste, mushrooms, seaweed, or prosciutto.”

Try a surprising appetizer or side with this recipe that the couple shared for cauliflower, roasted whole with pale ale, mustard, honey, and lime seasonings. “It’s the citrus and the cilantro that really pop in this dish,” Briscione says. The pan-seared pork medallions provide a hearty main dish. “This is layering flavor 101. From seasoning the pork to roasting with apples to building the sauce, this is a dish with all-day flavor that you can make in fifteen minutes.” And for dessert or brunch, Briscione swears by these sweet rolls, which play on the pairing of coffee, pecans, and a touch of bourbon. “Imagine if cinnamon rolls were invented in New Orleans,” Briscione says. “Yeah, these are that.”