Reader Linda writes in with this very interesting comment:
You’ve talked about taste from our body’s perception of it, but what about from the cook/baker’s creative side of it? I have never understood if there is a rule of thumb when to contrast or when to complement flavors in a dish you are creating. When I read restaurant menus I am often totally mystified by some of the combinations – ‘how on earth did they ever think those flavors would go together’ is my usual reaction. Are there in fact guidelines for pairings or groupings of flavors or is it just based on whatever you intuitively feel like throwing together? If the latter, I don’t seem to have that intuition.
Great comment. The only baking book I’ve ever seen that takes on this subject is Regan Daley’s splendid In the Sweet Kitchen. In it you’ll find an exhaustive section on flavor combinations.
However as far as I know there aren’t many “official” guidelines on what goes with what. Certainly there are the classics like apples and cinnamon, but beyond the tried-and-trues it’s pretty much up to each individual cook/baker to decide what works with what. That said there are plenty of chefs and bakers out there (most of them working in very high-end establishments) that do weird things simply because they can. Are they geniuses or do they simply have no, er…taste? Who can say?